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China to Expand Urban Medical Aid System

China will expand its urban medical aid system to the whole country in the first half of this year year, said Wang Zhikun, an official with the Ministry of Civil Affairs on Tuesday.

China started to experiment with an urban medical aid system in 2005, under which government subsidizes urban low wage earners when they are sick and unable to afford to go to hospital.

By now, the system has been set up in 2,560 counties, accounting for 89 percent of all counties. While in China's rural areas, a similar subsidy system has already been set up.

In Guiyang of southwest China's Guizhou Province, for example, urban low wage earners can apply for a special medical aid if the medical charges are more than 800 yuan (about US$106.67) in a year.

These measures have made it is easier for more than 51,000 low wage earners in the city to receive medical care.

Wang, who is deputy director of the ministry's minimum living level guarantee department, said funds allocated from financial departments, welfare lottery and public donation will jointly contribute to the aid system together.

Soaring medical costs in recent years have plunged many rural and urban Chinese back into poverty as a result of the government's failure to implement an adequate medical insurance network after it cut subsidies for medical costs in 1992.

China plans to reform the present system so that common people can enjoy universal basic services at reasonable prices, and China's long-awaited reform plan for its health care system will be released in March shortly after the top legislature's annual session, said Health Minister Chen Zhu earlier this month.

(Xinhua News Agency January 31, 2008)

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