The director of Shaanxi Provincial Health Bureau told a press conference in Xi'an on Monday that poor people and those who have lost their jobs will enjoy cheaper medical treatment in seven pilot hospitals from tomorrow.
Li Hongguang said the new policy meant a total of 264 hospital beds would be provided for people with financial difficulties.
Laid-off workers and disadvantaged migrants will be among those who receive a 20 percent discount on hospital expenses, said Li, but this would not affect the quality of medical services.
To keep costs down doctors are being directed to only use necessary medicines, Li added, and medical staff are forbidden from profiting from medicine sales and restricted to using standard prices.
In Shaanxi Provincial People's Hospital, one of the hospitals involved, heart operation costs will be halved for those with financial difficulties, Gao Jianmin, the hospital's deputy director, told China Daily.
The Provincial Health Bureau's Information Office said a complaints box would be set up in the hospital with monthly analysis of the most used medicines.
Li said that if the measure was successful it would be introduced to all hospitals in the province, but the lifespan of the trial was undecided.
"I am very glad to hear the news, but worry if the measure can be carried out properly," said Liu Xiansheng, a local resident.
Shaanxi is a northwestern province with 190,000 laid-off workers and 1.2 million rural residents living in poverty.
It classifies "people with financial difficulties" as those who earn less than 500 yuan (US$62) per month in urban areas and those who have a net annual income of no more than 700 yuan (US$87) in rural regions.
(China Daily, China.org.cn November 30, 2005)