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More Urban Chinese Receiving Healthcare Benefits

Almost 3.63 million urban Chinese received healthcare benefits in the first nine months of the year, up more than 70 percent over the same period last year, Vice Minister of Civil Affairs Li Liguo said on Wednesday.

Li said about 2.11 million urban Chinese received medical assistance from January to September last year.

"This is assistance provided by the government to those who are ill, but cannot afford medical bills," Li told a conference of the China-UK Urban Health and Poverty Project (UHPP).

Up to the end of September, 86 percent of China's counties had set up an urban healthcare benefit system, Li said.

The central budget allocated 1.3 billion yuan (US$171 million) this year to subsidize local governments, an increase of 170 percent from last year's 480 million yuan (US$63.16), he said.

The local government budget this year also increased by 30 percent to 1.76 billion yuan (US$231 million), Li said.

The urban healthcare system, mainly covering urban people who receive subsistence allowances, had focused more attention on the actual needs of more underprivileged people living in cities, Li said.

"The coverage has been extended from hospitalization to common illness assistance," he said, adding application procedures had been further simplified and the application threshold lowered to enlarge the number of recipients.

"The role of community health services have been given full play so as to provide medical convenience to recipients such as charging lower fees but offering more considerate services," he said.

Li praised "the contribution and great help" made by the UHPP in the country's medical assistance testing over the past seven years, saying, "The project has offered a helpful experiment for establishing community service-based healthcare system in China".

He said the ministry would learn from the project and further research how to effectively meet the healthcare demands of the poor and increase the fairness and accessibility of medical services.

The UHPP, a bilateral health cooperation program jointly established in 2000 by the government of China and the United Kingdom, was piloted in such cities as Chengdu, Shenyang and Xining and Yinchuan over the past seven years.

Chris Scarf, a leading UHPP expert, said community medical staff in China received a comprehensive "all-around doctor" training via the program.

The central government has started basic medical insurance this year, covering major illnesses for all urban residents, with the government subsidizing the poor people, including the migrant population living in cities.

(Xinhua News Agency December 13, 2007)

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