Central and local government subsidies for China's rural cooperative medical insurance system will be increased from 40 yuan (US$5.50) to 80 yuan per person, Health Minister Chen Zhu said Monday.
Rural residents will also be required to raise their contributions to the scheme, from 10 yuan to possibly 20 yuan a year.
The increase in funding is expected to ensure the cooperative healthcare system will cover the entire rural population by the end of 2008.
"The full coverage means more farmers will be able to reimburse part of their medical bills," Chen told a national health conference attended by Vice Premier Wu Yi and other senior officials.
Chen said 20 out of China's 31 provinces were already entirely covered by the program.
As of Sept. 30, 2007, about 730 million farmers, or 86 percent, in 2,448 counties, had joined the scheme, up 10.8 percentage points from 2004.
"As the financing increases, reimbursement plans should be adjusted to ensure that more medical fees can be refunded for farmers to boost the attractiveness of the program," Chen stressed.
The fund paid out about 22 billion yuan (US$3 billion) in reimbursements, with members of the scheme making 263.3 million medical visits during the first three quarters of last year, according to a report issued by the Ministry of Health on Sunday.
Vice Premier Wu Yi told the conference that the past five years had been "extraordinary" for the development of the country's health sector.
"The uncontrolled hikes in medical fees have been initially curbed, traditional Chinese medicine services have received public applause, and both the environment and drug and food safety have continuously improved," Wu said.
Health Minister Chen vowed to "extend universal health coverage to all Chinese by 2020", which means, "citizens of any age, sex and profession, or living in any place, are entitled to the same level of medicare".
He said measures had to be taken to narrow the gap in development of healthcare in different regions or among different social groups, and between urban and rural areas.
(Xinhua News Agency January 8, 2008)