China will raise the level of medical aid to low-income groups in both rural and urban areas in the treatment of major illnesses, as authorities aim to protect families from being reduced to poverty by unavoidable healthcare costs.
The new arrangement aims to cover 96 percent of expenses in the treatment of major illnesses for low-income families by the end of this year, according to Wang Zhikun, head of the department of social assistance under the Ministry of Civil Affairs.
Medical expenses for major illnesses are first paid by the patient. Reimbursement is then provided by an insurance plan, up to the plan’s limit. Plans vary, and generally do not cover the full amount.
Under the latest revision－issued by five central departments earlier this month－additional government aid will cover 70 percent of the portion not covered by insurance. Under this formula, it is calculated that 96 percent of expenses will be paid for low-income families.
“The new medical aid system will also be expanded to the elderly and minor groups. Families that are heavily burdened by medical bills will also be included in the new system,” Wang told a news conference on May 21.
Funding will be the same for residents in rural and urban areas, he said.
China introduced the medical aid system for low-income families in rural areas in 2003 and to urban areas in 2005.
Gong Puguang, vice-minister of civil affairs, said even though most Chinese have been covered by the health insurance system, the cost burden incurred by patients with severe medical conditions remains heavy. That burden may even discourage people from seeking medical attention.
In one extreme case Zheng Yanliang, a farmer from Baoding, Hebei province, amputated his own leg using a fruit knife, a hacksaw and a wooden back scratcher after his limb was afflicted by a mysterious infection, Shijiazhuang Daily reported.
“The case is an indicator that our medical aid system is not well known among low-income families. We need to develop a plan to enable the authorities and social groups to spot the families that need help,” Gong said.