China's rural cooperative medical care system will cover at least 80 percent of counties this year, according to a national conference here on Monday and Tuesday.
The system, which required the government to partly fund farmers' medical expenses, had made progress and benefited farmers, said Vice Premier Wu Yi at the conference.
"Medical service in rural regions has improved significantly, providing farmers with easier and cheaper access to medical treatment," she said.
This year and in the next few years, the system should be introduced to more rural areas and benefit more farmers, with the priority on implementing the policies consistently and constantly, and exploring more methods of funding, she said.
“Farmers are encouraged to join the system on a voluntary basis," she said.
Wu also stressed the importance of ensuring the quality of medical services and equipment provided for rural areas, and called for more efforts to lower the costs of medicine.
For most farmers in China, finding a well-equipped and cheap clinic is difficult and the services are often not up to standard.
Financial burdens also prevent farmers from obtaining proper treatment. Statistics from the Ministry of Health show one third of poor rural patients choose not to go to hospital and 45 percent of farmers in hospital ask to be discharged before they have recovered.
The government began to increase funding for healthcare in rural areas and launched the system after the outbreak of SARS in 2003.
Under the system, each farm family pays 10 yuan per family member to a medical fund every year. The state and local governments also contribute 10 yuan to the fund. A farm family member is then entitled to reclaim a proportion of the cost of medical treatment.
By the end of September last year, the system had been extended to 1,433 counties, accounting for 50.1 percent of the total. About 406 million people, or 45.8 percent of the total rural population, joined the system last year.
More than 57 percent of rural families that joined the system had made claims by 2005, according to a survey released on Tuesday.
The survey showed that families were reimbursed 25.7 percent of their total medical expenses, with an average refund of 731 yuan (US$ 91). The survey polled 19,195 rural families in 32 counties of 17 provinces.
It also showed that 90 percent of families who participated in the system are willing to stay in the system.
(Xinhua News Agency January 24, 2007)