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Medical Scheme Benefits Farmers in Shaanxi
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A new medical insurance system in northwest China's Shaanxi Province is helping farmers cope with soaring medical bills, although experts have warned that it still leaves them out of pocket.

"We used to pay for all the medical treatment and it was a heavy burden," said a farmer named Qu Jingwen.

Qu, who is from Gongzhai Village in Huxian County, received a payment of 14,000 yuan (US$1,726) when he was released from hospital on Sunday, covering one-seventh of his total bill.

Qu was one of about 28,000 farmers in the county who have received more than 2.83 million yuan (US$348,900) of medical payments in the first half of this year, Wang Guodong, an official with Huxian County Health Bureau, said yesterday.

"The scheme has helped reduce the financial burden brought about by huge medical costs," the official said.

"According to the new medical service policy, farmers pay 10 yuan (US$1.25) annually, and can get up to 15,000 yuan (US$1,850) reimbursement in a year for medical treatment," the official said.

The scheme was launched in November 2004, the official added, with local governments also adding money.

"Payments to farmers have reached 78.2 million yuan (US$9.64 million) since the scheme was launched," said Liu Zhongmin, an official with Shaanxi Provincial Health Department.

However, currently only 10.48 million of the province's 28.8 million rural population have joined the scheme, proof that it needs to be further promoted, said Zeng Lingxia, professor at the Medical College of Xi'an Jiaotong University.

"The maximum payment 15,000 yuan (US$1,850) in a year is not enough given that a farmer may pay up to 100,000 yuan (US$12,331) if he is seriously ill and has to receive hospital treatment," she added.

(Xinhua News Agency July 4, 2006)

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