Huang Zhinu spent over 5,000 yuan (US$604) in treating her heart disease last year, a large sum for a 75-year-old lady living in a small village in south China's Guangdong Province.
Anyway, she later got half the money back from the villagers' committee because she had a cooperative medical card.
Huang is one of the lucky people in her village which began 10 years ago setting up a cooperative medical fund for serious diseases.
Under the scheme, each villager pays 10 to 20 yuan (US$1.21-2.42) a year to build up the medical fund.
If a villager falls ill and has to go to hospital, he or she can have 30 to 50 percent of medical expenses covered out of the fund by the villagers' committee. The highest sum can reach 3,000 yuan (US$362.86) per year.
After 10 years, the cooperative mechanism has grown fully-fledged and popular among villagers.
Farmers used to cover medical expenses themselves. Statistics from the province's poverty-relief office show that in 2000, 17 percent to 30 percent of families in the 16 counties being surveyed were impoverished as a result of high medical costs.
Local officials say that in the future, more farmers in poor areas can expect to enjoy medical care benefits similar to those available in the village where Huang Zhinu lives.
Realizing the scheme's value, the provincial government of Guangdong has decided to allocate 360 million yuan (US$43.5 million) to help popularize the fund.
(Xinhua News Agency October 27, 2002)