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Gov't Set to Double Health Subsidies

The government will double its contributions to the cooperative health scheme for rural and urban areas, the Ministry of Finance said yesterday.

The scheme, which is aimed at helping farmers and the jobless in cities, currently provides at least 50 yuan (US$6.80) for each recipient for medical costs.

The amount is made up of 20 yuan from the central government, at least 20 yuan from the local government and 10 yuan from the individuals themselves.

"The government is prepared to increase the subsidy next year," Yu Gongbin, a senior ministry official, said on an Internet conference.

The authorities have decided to increase subsidies from central and local governments from a combined 40 yuan to 80 yuan for each individual account, Yu said.

In 2002, China launched a pilot phase of a rural cooperative health scheme to help farmers tackle rising health costs. Three provinces were chosen for the program.

By early last year, more than 370 million farmers, about 42 percent of the rural population, were involved in the program.

The authorities had said the program would cover the whole of the rural population by 2010.

Should farmers still not be able to cover medical costs after receiving aid from the cooperative fund, the country's medical relief system will offer a hand, Yu said.

Similarly, the urban cooperative health scheme was put on trial in 79 cities this year. It is scheduled to cover half of the country's cities next year and cover all of the urban population by 2010.

More is being done to address rising costs, officials added.

The consumer price index reached 6.9 percent last month, an 11-year high.

To tackle the problem, the government has earmarked 2 billion yuan to raise minimum living standards of the urban poor this year, You Mingchun, a senior ministry official, said.

In addition, since 2003, it has increased its investment in employment programs from 10 billion yuan to 34.5 billion yuan last year.

It also invested 4 billion in special employment funds last year to support the development of small and private firms.

(China Daily December 27, 2007)

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