Western Medicine by Eastern Wealth: Chinese VCs Invest in US Healthcare Startups

Back in the late 80s I remember reading an article, a puff piece really, glorifying universal healthcare in China.

It mentioned barefoot doctors in every village working for the poor and not for profit, the beautiful synergy between western medicine (bad) and ancient Chinese medicine (good). And how the masses were not susceptible to western diseases like diabetes (type II presumably), cancer, cardio-vascular issues, and respiratory illnesses. All in all it painted a very rosy picture of healthcare in China as compared to the USA.

Who knew it would just take a little prosperity to inflict all those ‘western diseases’ on the smiling populace. Or was it because the average lifespan went from the high 60s to over 75 in a span of 25 odd years?

The rise of the Chinese economy over the last two decades has been mirrored in the rise of the country’s vocal middle class, from a mere 4% in 2002 to over 31% in 2012, and expected to rise to 54% by 2020. China is in the enviable position of having the world’s largest middle class – over 430 million today. To put it into perspective, the entire population of the US is just under 330 million.

Just as their counterparts across the developed world, the Chinese middle class has been aspiring to a better life, for themselves and their children, the usual, a home, education, jobs, car, pension and access to satisfactory if not good healthcare. The last is turning out to be a nightmare for the Chinese government. On paper all Chinese citizens have access to free healthcare at hospitals, in reality only basic care is covered, and that with a 30% deductible (30% of the cost is borne by the patients).

The country’s urban centers have gone from 19% of the population to hosting over 60% in the last two decades. Beijing has a population of over 20 million and as per 2016 data only about 634 hospitals. The rest of the regions/cities/provinces are not much better off and in most cases are in worse shape.