China’s Covid wave drives up consumer interest in insurance after health system shortfalls

Extreme pressure on public hospitals — including lack of capacity — drove many new patients for Covid and non-Covid care to facilities operated by United Family Healthcare in China, said founder Roberta Lipson. She said her company has 11 international-standard hospitals and more than 20 clinics in major Chinese cities.

“Growth in awareness of the importance of assured access to health care, as well as UFH as an alternative provider, is driving increased demand for our services from patients that can afford self-pay care,” she said.

“This experience is also driving increased interest in commercial health insurance which could cover access to premium private providers,” Lipson said. “We are helping patients to understand the benefits of commercial insurance. This will have a lasting impact on demand volume for private healthcare services.”

New Frontier Health, of which Lipson is vice chair, acquired United Family Healthcare from TPG in 2019.

In early December, mainland China abruptly ended its stringent Covid contact tracing measures. Infections surged, with hospitalizations reaching a high of 1.6 million nationwide on Jan. 5, official data showed.

Between Dec. 8 and Jan. 12, Chinese hospitals saw nearly 60,000 Covid-related deaths — mostly of senior citizens, according to Chinese health authorities. By Jan. 23, the total exceeded 74,000, according to CNBC estimates from official data.

Although new deaths per day have fallen sharply from the peak, the figures don’t include Covid patients who may have died at home. Anecdotes depict a public health system overwhelmed with people at the height of the wave, and long wait times for ambulances. Doctors and nurses worked overtime at hospitals, sometimes while they themselves were sick.