CHINA> National
Compensation to cover medical costs 'until 18'
By Zhu Zhe (China Daily)
Updated: 2008-12-31 07:55

The compensation fund for victims of a tainted milk scandal will pay for medical costs the sickened incur until they reach 18, affected families said Tuesday.

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The notice of the latest pledge to victims and their families was in the name of 22 dairy companies whose products were found contaminated with melamine. Parents of victims in Hebei, Henan and Jilin provinces told China Daily yesterday they received the notification.

"We'll raise the money to set up a medical fund to cover expenses for lingering illnesses until the child reaches 18. The fund will be managed by China Life," a compensation document received by Wu Yanfang, a mother of a girl in Shijiazhuang, Hebei, who suffered from kidney ailments after drinking tainted milk, showed.

Wu said she received the document on Monday.

The document said medical costs arising from the tainted milk could be reimbursed at local branches of China Life, the country's biggest life insurer. The claims would have to be accompanied by medical diagnosis to prove that the related illness is linked to kidney problems caused by the melamine-tainted dairy products.

Parents of victims will also receive one-off compensation. Wu said the compensation for her 16-month-old girl, who still has a stone in her kidney, is 2,000 yuan ($292), but she rejected it because it was "woefully inadequate".

"I'll never accept that amount," she said.

Parents who do not accept the compensation are asked to sign a document to state that they do not agree with the proposed amount and will seek compensation through lawsuits, Wu said.

She said her girl is being categorized as having a "common symptom" under the compensation document.

It divided victims of the tainted dairy products as suffering from three categories: Death, serious illness and common symptom.

"Serious illness" was referred to as kidney failure or treatment that required surgery, but the amount of compensation was not stated, implying that it would be notified on a person to person basis.

Earlier media reports said families of babies killed in the scandal will each get 200,000 yuan ($29,000), and seriously sickened babies will get 30,000 yuan ($4,400) each.

At least six babies have been killed and 294,000 others have suffered from kidney problems after drinking the tainted milk products, most of which were produced by the Shijiazhuang-based Sanlu Group, figures from the Ministry of Health showed. Illegal milk dealers added melamine to dairy products to boost false protein levels..

Lawyers for the families of sickened children said they are advising their clients to "think twice" before accepting the compensation package, saying the amount offered is too low.

"I advised them not to accept it for the time being, as we still need time to study the paper to see whether it suggests any surrendering of rights for lawsuits," Xu Zhiyong, a Beijing lawyer who led about 200 families asking for compensation, told China Daily yesterday.

Zhao Lianhai, founder of a website offering help to babies suffering from the kidney ailments, called the compensation solution a "step in the right direction", but said parents felt their concerns had been ignored.

"We hoped there could have been a channel for the victims to communicate with the government and relevant dairy enterprises," Zhao said.

Apart from the "closed-door decision-making", parents said they are also angry at the stipulation that the fund will cover the medical costs of victims until they are 18.

"What if my son has kidney problems at 19? It should be a lifelong guarantee," Dong Shiliang, a 30-year-old native of Yunnan province whose son has stones in both kidneys, told China Daily.

Still, many parents have accepted the compensation for fear that they will get nothing if they do otherwise. A mother, surnamed Zhang, from Baoding in Hebei, said she accepted the 2,000-yuan compensation because it was "too difficult" to file a lawsuit against the dairy companies involved.

"At least I can get a guarantee for my son in the coming 17 years. If I don't sign it, I'm afraid I'll get nothing," she said.