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Falling Ill Will Mean a Bigger Bill for Workers

Central and Beijing government civil servants will bid farewell to the "free medical care" system in May.

Nearly 1 million people will be affected. Instead of relying mainly on the central government to cover most of their medical costs as they have done since the 1950s, the employees are encouraged to join a social medical insurance system in which both the government and the workers share the medical costs, Beijing Labour and Social Security Bureau officials were quoted as saying Thursday by the Beijing Youth Daily.

The change is part of the capital's larger effort to improve its health and medical system.

The rest of the country will further its medical reform as well this year, by upgrading the management and medicine purchase system at clinics and hospitals, Ministry of Health officials said at a national health conference Thursday in Beijing.

Statistics show that the cost of medical service per person increased by 25.9 percent each year between 1990 and 1998. But thanks to the new medical reforms, the margin of increase dropped to 14.8 percent in 1999 and 8.6 percent in 2000.

The cost of medicine had been increasing by 24.5 percent a year, but that, too, dropped to 6.1 percent in 2000 thanks to the reforms.

Health Minister Zhang Wenkang said the nation will introduce a competitive mechanism to medical institutions to improve the quality of their service.

"The idea of letting patients choose their doctors will be extended and applied nationwide," Zhang said. "And medical institutions may let doctors compete for jobs instead of granting them tenure."

Joint venture clinics and hospitals as well as other private and joint-stock medical institutions will be encouraged to create a more competitive climate as well, Zhang said.

In addition, the nation will strengthen its disease control and prevention efforts in cases including the plague, tuberculosis, diabetes and AIDS.

Two million cases of infectious diseases were diagnosed between January and October 2001 - equal to the number of cases in all of 2000, Zhang said.

China now has several million people infected with tubercle bacillus; 10 percent of them will suffer tuberculosis, Ministry of Health officials said.

Food poisoning killed 146 Chinese people last year, while 15,569 others survived, the ministry said.

The number of bacteria and chemical-related food poisonings is on the rise, the ministry said.

(China Daily January 25, 2002)

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