For years, hundreds of millions of people in China have been without proper medical insurance. Getting sick could be a disaster. But the government is building a nationwide insurance network to make sure everyone has access to affordable treatment.
Xiao Lei has bone cancer. His treatment will cost 180,000 yuan -- 25 times his family's annual income. But most of his treatment is being paid by a new medical insurance fund. Xiao Lei was the first person to benefit from this scheme.
Beijing launched the fund in September. It costs 50 yuan a year to join. The local government will add another 50. If a child's treatment costs more than 650 yuan the fund will pay 70 percent of the bill. And that could save Xiao Lei's life.
Senior citizens are also covered. 60 percent of their treatment will be paid by the fund.
Zhang Xinqing, Director of Beijing Bureau of Labor & Social Security, said, "Next year, half a million unemployed residents in Beijing will be covered by the new scheme."
The pilot project has been launched in 79 cities, targeting urban children, students and jobless adults for the first time. The plan is to bring all urban residents under the umbrella of medical insurance by 2010. And in the countryside, going to the hospital is no longer a luxury.
Zou Xiuxiang's treatment for uremia costs about three times a farmer's annual income. But the Rural Cooperative Medical program will pay 85% of his bill.
And that means his chronic disease will not be such a financial burden on his family.
Over 700 million rural residents like Zou Xiuxiang have joined the scheme since it began as a pilot project in 2003.
Health Minister Chen Zhu said, "The Rural Cooperative Medical program will cover over 80% of rural areas by the end of 2007. And by the end of next year, all rural areas should be covered."
Under the program, each person pays 10 yuan, or US$1.3 a year into a fund. The government adds a larger amount. If a person falls seriously ill, a proportion of hospital expenses will be covered by the fund.
70 % of the population has now joined these insurance schemes. The government says it will put more money into the system and strengthen supervision to make sure all citizens have access to proper health care.
(CCTV October 10, 2007)