Farmers worrying about expensive medical treatment have received a boost with the news that the Chinese government plans to improve medical care for 900 million rural residents.
The central government decided to double government allowances of 20 yuan (US$2.5) this year for each farmer participating in the rural cooperative medical care system, according to the government work report delivered by Premier Wen Jiabao to the fourth session of the 10th National People's Congress on Sunday.
China launched the rural cooperative medical care system in some provinces on a trial basis in 2003 and it had covered 671 counties with a total of 177 million rural residents by 2005, according to the report.
In addition, China plans to extend the scope of current trials to 1,145, or 40 percent of its counties this year, said Wen in the report.
With the new policy, a farmer puts 10 yuan (US$1.25) a year into his personal medical care account and the government injects another 40 yuan (US$5) into his account. Then, the government will pay a maximum of 65 percent of his medical charges a year.
"It's good news for us. To cure a cold would cost us 60 yuan (US$7.5) and it's too much," said Zhu Youli, a farmer from the Jiuji Village in north China's Shanxi Province.
High medical expenses and inadequate health care have long haunted the vast population of Chinese farmers, who were supposed to share the same fruits of the country's fast economic development over the past two decades as the urban residents.
"We have a saying that a serious illness eats up ten years of efforts of a farmer's family to shake off poverty," said Zhu.
Latest statistics from the Health Ministry show one third of poor rural patients in China choose not to go to hospital and 45 percent of the hospitalized farmers ask to be discharged before they have recovered.
Hu Zhi, a farmer from the county of Ping Nan in the southern Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, once had a hard experience to treat his father's heart disease.
Hu's father, 80, needed to go to hospital at least three times a year, which cost the family 10,000 yuan (US$1,250), imposing a huge financial burden on the five-strong family.
"Then my father refused to go to hospital. Once we arrived at the front door of the county's hospital, he turned back home alone secretly, making me feel so awful," said Hu.
Things changed after Hu's family joined the medical care system in 2004.
"It's like we have bought medical insurance. Now, we just need to pay one third of the original money for my father's disease," said Hu.
The Chinese government began to increase input in health care in rural areas when Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) ran riot in the country in 2003.
The central and local governments spent 10.5 billion yuan to establish a disease prevention and control system that has operated at provincial, city and county levels over the past three years, said Wen in his report.
In addition, the central government spent 3 billion yuan (US$375 million) to support the establishment of health clinics in towns and townships in the central and western regions.
For most farmers in China, however, finding a well-equipped and a low-charged clinic in rural areas is not easy, because the investment in medical care facilities in rural areas is not comparable to that of urban cities, said Yi Yanxiang, an official with the Shanxi Provincial health department.
"You should not expect to finish a month's work in one day," said Yin.
Wen promised in his report that "the state will spend more than 20 billion yuan (US$2.5 billion) over the next five years on renovating hospital buildings in towns and townships and upgrading their equipment".
By 2008, the basics of a Rural Health Care Service System and a rural medical assistance system should be in place in all rural areas, said the premier.
"I hope the government can keep its word and we don't have to leave hospitals because we can't afford the medical charges," said Zhu Youli.
(Xinhua News Agency March 10, 2006)