China is expected to be able to build a nationwide medical insurance system by 2020 for all its residents, 75 per cent of whom are still not covered by the umbrella, experts said.
Chen Zhu, vice-president of Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), said the system should be provided by the government for all people in both urban and rural areas.
The average per capita gross domestic product is expected to reach US$4,000 or even higher by then.
Now, only 130 million of the 550 million urban residents have medical insurance. Most farmers have no medical insurance at all.
Many people in the country cannot afford any medical services because of their high costs. At least 80 per cent of such services are available in cities.
In the rural areas of central and western China, a co-operative medical system is implemented, which pools money from the governments and farmers to cover their medical costs.
Starting this year, the central government is increasing the amount of money given to every farmer from 20 yuan (US$2.5) to 40 yuan (US$5).
The system, which can only provide limited support to farmers, should be replaced by a medical insurance system, experts said.
The central government is going the right direction by devoting more money to disease prevention and public health improvement at the grass-roots level, Chen said.
He attended a launching ceremony for three books. An important theme of these books is to help governments improve the health of poor people in developing countries, and make the most efficient use of scarce healthcare resources.
In the past years, China devoted too much attention to economic development while ignoring building the health care system, especially in rural areas, Chen said.
Fortunately, the central government has realized this problem. In the next five years, it will invest 20 billion yuan (US$2.4 billion) to improve medical services in rural areas, said She Jing, vice-minister of the Ministry of Health.
(China Daily 04/04/2006 page2)