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Farmers Welcome New Rural Medical System

The rural medical care system launched in 2003 has been widely acknowledged by Chinese farmers and helped reduce their healthcare burdens, according to an assessment team.

More farmers had access to medical services since it was introduced to rural regions as a pilot scheme, said Wu Ming, a member of the assessment team and professor at Peking University.

The team, composed of experts from the Peking University, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, the Ministry of Agriculture and Ministry of Health, conducted the assessment from March to July.

The assessment was launched in hospitals and township clinics in 257 pilot counties of 29 provinces and regions, and also covers70,769 farmers in another 32 counties of 17 provinces. Nearly 500 farmers took part in group discussions and interviews with the team.

Ninety percent of the polled farmers who joined the system said they were willing to continue another year, and 51 percent who had not joined said they would do so the next year.

Ninety-one percent of the funds collected by the system was spent on farmers in 2005, while the figure was 71 percent in 2004.

The system also helped optimize the use of medical resources in rural regions, regulated the management of medical institutes and curbed the increase in medical expense, said Wu.

However, problems were also revealed from the pilot system, which needed adjustments in the fund-raising, supervision and insurance capacity, he noted.

The team recommended that in some comparatively developed rural regions, the funds collected from farmers should rise according to their incomes, and the government subsidy should rise in accordance with revenue increases.

The co-existence of the rural medicare system and the urban social medical insurance system should be explored and encouraged in well-off rural areas as well, Wu said.

China's rural cooperative medical system, which requires the government to partly fund farmers' medical expenses, has enrolled 396 million farmers, about 44.7 percent of the total rural population, said the Ministry of Health earlier this month.

The government began to increase input into healthcare in rural areas after the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2003.

It is to double the allowances of 20 yuan (US$2.5) this year for each farmer participating in the rural cooperative medicare system.

With the new policy, a farmer puts 10 yuan (US$1.25) a year into his personal medical care account and the government adds another 40 yuan (US$5). The government will pay a maximum of 65 percent of his medical charges a year.

The total allowance provided by the central government this year would reach 4.23 billion yuan (US$529 million), said ministry spokesman Mao Qun'an.

The new rural cooperative medical system is to be available to 80 percent of counties by the end of 2008 and all counties by 2010.

This year, the Ministry of Health is planning to train 500,000 medical staff in the pilot counties, and send 3,900 urban doctors to assist in rural regions.

(Xinhua News Agency September 28, 2006)

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