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Medical Cooperatives Expand to 85% of Rural Residents

China's rural cooperative medical insurance system, initiated in 2003 to offer farmers basic healthcare, has expanded to cover more than 85 percent of the country's rural residents, China's health ministry spokesman Mao Qun'an said on Monday.

"By September 30, about 726 million farmers had joined the scheme, accounting for 85.96 percent of the rural population in the pilot areas," Mao said at a press briefing.

Meanwhile, the rural medical cooperatives have expanded to 2,448 counties, county-level cities and city districts, covering approximately 85.53 percent of the country's rural areas, Mao said.

The four-year-old scheme, seen by many as a way to help Chinese farmers with virtually no medical insurance from being vulnerable to accidents or disease, requires a participant pays 10 yuan (US$1.3) a year, while the state, provincial, municipal and county governments supply another 40 yuan (US$5.2) to the fund.

When rural residents fall seriously ill, a proportion of hospital expenses will be covered from the pooled insurance. The rate of reimbursement varies according to different kinds of illness and the actual cost of medical expenses incurred.

China's Health Minister Chen Zhu said earlier that a total of 24.147 billion yuan (about US$3.17 billion) was pooled for the fund within the first half of this year. About 13.34 billion yuan was used during the same period as reimbursement to the farmers.

According to a five-year (2006-2010) government health plan released on June 7, the cooperative healthcare network will cover all rural residents by the end of 2010.

(Xinhua News Agency November 12, 2007)

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