A regional pilot scheme designed to provide basic medical insurance for all urban citizens will go nationwide this year, a senior labor official said on Tuesday.
A further 229 cities will be added to the scheme this year, Wang Dongjin, former vice minister of labor and social security and head of a team of experts involved with the pilot, said at a national teleconference.
By the end of the year, the scheme will cover 317 cities, Wang said.
Dubbed by the public as a lifesaving project, the scheme has been well received by residents in the 88 pilot cities and has brought financial and medical relief to all beneficiaries, he said.
Launched in September, the program, as of December, covered 40.68 million people with 620,000 of them already benefiting from it, Wang said.
With an average annual premium of 236 yuan (US$33) for adults and 97 yuan for children, the scheme will be extended to at least 240 million non-working urban residents, such as children, students, the elderly, the disabled and the unemployed.
These groups have been given access to the insurance plan through agents at schools and neighborhood communities, Wang said.
For the disabled, home visits will be offered to help them sign up, he said.
The premiums are paid by households, instead of individuals, he said. And the government will give subsidies annually to each participant, with more going to families of low-income earners and the disabled.
Wang cited a recent survey showing 68 percent of those insured giving it the thumbs up.
The poll also found that, between October and December, the number of patients who refused medical treatment for fear of high costs decreased by 10 percent.
While subsidized by both central and local governments, the insurance scheme presents both personal and governmental liabilities and cannot be considered a welfare program in its entirety, Vice Premier Wu Yi said at the conference.
Personal contributions to enroll in the scheme cannot be lowered, she said.
With the new scheme, China now has a three-layer medicare system, including the health insurance plan for urban employees launched in 1998 and the New Rural Cooperative Medical Scheme launched in 2003.
Among those already covered by the medical scheme are more than 10.8 million urban residents in Jiangsu Province, almost 4.7 million people in Anhui province, and in excess of 2.2 million urban residents in Gansu Province.
(China Daily February 27, 2008)