Houston Community News >> Chinese Gang Caught Scalping Hospital Tickets

12/22/2006 BEIJING -- Chinese police have broken up a criminal gang that was controlling access to hospital doctors by scalping tickets and threatening violence against patients who resisted its rules. The gang members were hit with prison sentences of up to 10 years in a public show trial in Beijing. But illegal scalping is flourishing at many hospitals across China, despite a government promise to eliminate the racket.

The scalping epidemic is the latest sign of corruption and greed in China's health-care system, where costs have skyrocketed so high that many patients cannot afford treatment.

The collapse of affordable health care has emerged as one of China's most explosive social issues, polls have found.

About half of Chinese people cannot afford the cost of medical treatment when they fall sick.

In the latest case, police arrested a nine-member gang after it seized control of the registration system for patients at Tiantan hospital, one of the biggest hospitals in Beijing.

Charged up to $130
The scalpers used threats and violent harassment to gain more than $5,100 (U.S.) from desperate patients who wanted to see doctors at the hospital. ''They also assaulted patients who objected when they jumped into the queues,'' a report in the Beijing News said.
The gangsters charged up to $130 for tickets to visit the hospital's best-known medical specialists. The registration fee is only $2 or less, but many patients were willing to pay the higher price to the scalpers to bypass the lengthy lines.

In an attempt to intimidate other scalpers, the gang members were sentenced in an extraordinary court proceeding this month in a public square in front of the hospital, with crowds of curious passersby watching. It was an unusual throwback to the old Maoist days when show trials were held in the streets as a form of humiliation and shaming.

The government knows it faces a huge problem. With the Chinese health-care system deteriorating into market-driven anarchy in recent years, patients are often required to wait outside a hospital for an entire night, even in cold winter weather.

(Contributed by Scripps Howard News Service)