China's rural medical care system will cover more than 80
percent counties, said Premier Wen Jiabao at the opening meeting of
the Fifth Session of the Tenth National People's Congress (NPC) in
Beijing on Monday.
"The trial area of the new type of rural cooperative medical
care system will be expanded this year to cover over 80 percent of
all counties, county-level cities and city districts in China.
Areas possessing the proper conditions may expand the trial faster
than others," said Wen in the government work report delivered to
2,890 NPC deputies at the annual session of the top
The allocations from the central government budget to subsidize
this trial will amount to 10.1 billion yuan (US$1.3 billion this
year, a 5.8 billion yuan (US$750 million year-on-year increase,
according to the government work report.
NPC deputy Li Changshui, a village head from Hunan Province,
said the move shows the strong commitment and resolution of the
central government in improving the lagging-behind rural health
service system in the approach to build a new socialist
Under the new cooperative medical care program launched in 2003,
a farmer participant pays 10 yuan (US$1.3 a year, while the state,
provincial, municipal and county governments jointly put in another
40 yuan (US$5.2 for the cooperative fund.
The participant can have part of his expense reimbursed in case
he is hospitalized. The rate of reimbursement varies according to
different kinds of illness and the actual cost of medical expenses
Rural Chinese people used to have access to subsidized health
clinics run by "barefoot doctors", who were mainly middle school
graduates trained in first aid. This service, essentially free,
helped almost double the country's average life expectancy from 35
years in 1949 to 68 years in 1978.
When China began its economic reform in early 1980s, the old
system was ended as the country attempted to switch to a market-
oriented health care system. But the government failed to establish
a viable substitute, leaving almost 90 percent of the rural
population without health insurance, according to the Ministry of
In 2003, the average annual income for China's 745 million rural
populations was 2,622 yuan (US$328 while the average medical
expenses were 2,236 yuan (US$280 according to the Ministry of
Health in 2004.
A national health survey in 2003 revealed that about 73 percent
of people in rural areas who should have sought medical treatment
chose not to do so because of the fear of high cost.
"Once the ambulance siren wails, a pig is taken to the market;
once a hospital bed is slept in, a year of farming goes down the
drain; once a serious disease is contracted, 10 years of savings
are whittled away," said a well-known Chinese countryside
Thanks to the new cooperative scheme, 410 million farmers among
1,451 counties had joined the program, accounting for 50.7 percent
of the country's total, said the government work report.
So far, China's central and local governments have invested over
18.9 billion yuan (US$2.4 billion into the medicare scheme.
A survey jointly conducted by Beijing University, the Chinese
Academy of Social Sciences, the Ministry of Agriculture and the
Ministry of Health released early this year found that more than 57
percent of rural families that joined the system had made claims by
Families were reimbursed 25.7 percent of their total medical
expenses, with an average refund of 731 yuan (US$95 according to
the survey that polled 19,195 rural families in 32 counties of 17
It also showed that 90 percent of families who participated in
the program are willing to stay in the system.
(Xinhua News Agency March 5, 2007)