Rev up medical reform

0 CommentsPrint E-mail China Daily, January 20, 2010
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The new policy that allows migrant workers to transfer their medical insurance across the country is a welcome step forward to help fix China's fragmented health insurance system.

Small as the initiative is, such efforts are sorely needed to facilitate reform of the country's healthcare, which is a long and complicated process.

There have been healthcare problems for years in China, and the global economic recession has only made tackling the issue more urgent than ever.

It is no secret that while China's remarkable economic growth has lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty over the past three decades, medical costs remains one of the top financial threats to low-income residents. Worse, as the global recession makes it increasingly difficult for China to rely on exports for growth, the lack of an adequate safety net has forced many Chinese households to engage in precautionary savings to buffer against disasters.

Chinese authorities have recognized the need to boost domestic spending into a crucial engine for growth and written up a slew of new measures to build a better safety net.

Last year, for example, the State Council passed a plan to ensure a minimum standard of healthcare for more than 90 percent of the population of 1.3 billion by 2011.

But the 850-billion-yuan ($125 billion) medical reform package won't benefit as many people as officials are hoping for unless loopholes in the existing medical insurance system are fixed timely.

The difficulty for migrant workers to transfer their health insurance upon finding new jobs in other provinces, autonomous regions or municipalities is one of the problems that hinders labor mobility.

Since China's expansion of urbanization efforts and its industries will draw more farmers from their rural homes to urban jobs in the coming decades, it simply does not make sense to keep a fragmented medical insurance system that discriminates against the free flow of the labor force within the country.

To dismantle such unnecessary institutional barriers is just the first step in providing people with affordable and accessible medical services.

It's a good thing that the strong recovery of the national economy has not weakened a sense of urgency among Chinese policymakers to build a more sound healthcare system.

But as the government presses the need for more consumer spending, it must also speed up reforms to improve the social safety net.

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