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Medicare Scheme to Cover More Farmers

More farmers are expected to enjoy a trial medicare system this year, similar to the medicare now enjoyed by increasing numbers of city dwellers.


Trial medicare measures for migrant workers and farmers will be improved and promoted over wider areas to help cover treatment costs for serious illnesses, the Ministry of Labor and Social Security has promised.


The ministry will try to make the medical insurance network available for 115.5 million city residents across the country this year, up 6 per cent from that of last year, said Vice-Minister Wang Dongjin.


The ministry will make medicare a priority this year for employees of non-State enterprises, low-income State enterprise employees and retired persons, Wang said.


Some 108.9 million urban residents across China were covered by a basic medical insurance network by the end of last year, according to ministry statistics.


"But the health network is incomplete and is especially fragile in China's rural areas,'' said Wang.


Many non-State employees, migrant workers and farmers are still out of reach of any medical insurance.


"Without any medicare system, some of my fellow farmers in our village fell into poverty after they had serious illnesses,'' said Huang Hanzhong, a farmer from Dafu Village in South China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.


To save medical costs, Huang, in his late 50s, only stayed in hospital for one day after breaking his back late last year. He laid in bed for two months depending on herbal medicines to recover.


According to Chen Xiwen, a research fellow with the Development and Research Center of the State Council, 90 per cent of farmers have to pay medical expenses themselves, compared to the 60 per cent paid by urban dwellers, while farmers' incomes are about one-third that of urban residents. As a result, many farmers are unable to afford medical treatment.


A recent survey of the medical expenses of farmers in three counties in Guangxi shows that medical expenses are a great burden for villagers.


Among the 41,000 farmers in Guangxi's Pingguo County, each goes to see a doctor twice a year, and the annual per-capita medical expenses are only 51.4 yuan (US$6). The annual average income of these farmers is 1,391 yuan (US$167).


The State has vowed to build a relatively affluent Chinese society in the next two decades, and a key aspect in reaching this goal is to raise the living standards and quality of life for Chinese farmers, who account for 70 per cent of the population.


Official statistics show that half of those in poverty in rural areas suffer from disease.


"From this point of view, without a solution to farmers' medical problems, it is hardly possible to realize a relatively affluent society in China,'' said Wang.


The central government is determined to set up an effective welfare system to offer medicare to 900 million farmers, and the system is scheduled to be expanded to cover all farmers by 2010.


In 1999, Anhui Province in East China introduced a new co-operative medicare system on a trial basis in 10 counties.


The co-operatives, similar to medical insurance institutions, require contributions both from individual farmers and the government so that a funding pool is built up to cover farmers' treatment costs for serious illnesses at a set ratio.


Each farmer participant is required to pay 10 yuan (US$1.20) annually and the government contributes 20 yuan (US$2.40) to form the funding pool. Farmers join in the co-operatives on a voluntary basis.

(China Daily February 20, 2004)


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