Chinese residents will be able to take advantage of social benefits more easily after receiving new social-insurance cards that give them access to banking services.
The cards were introduced this month by the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security and People's Bank of China, or China's central bank.
By the end of July, 145 million Chinese residents held social-insurance cards.
The ministry wants more people to have them.
By the end of 2015, it plans to issue 800 million of the cards, giving them to 60 percent of the population, Hu Xiaoyi, deputy minister of human resources and social security, said at a news conference on Tuesday.
The cards can be used to put money into public unemployment, pension and medical funds. They can also be used as debit cards to put money into a savings account and to make payments, according to the conference.
Most people now use social-insurance cards to pay for medical expenses.
"The issuance of the (new) cards is an important step in promoting the development of the country's social-insurance program and is also an innovation in the country's financial services," said Li Dongrong, assistant governor of the People's Bank of China.
Wang Lixin, a 45-year-old hemophiliac from Tianjin, said he thinks the change will make his life easier.
"I need to see doctors three times every month, and each time costs me at least 2,000 yuan ($313)," Wang said, adding that he used to have to wait for more than a month to be reimbursed from the government's fund for public medical insurance.
"With the new card, I'm guessing I will be reimbursed instantly when I pay a medical bill at the hospital," he said.
Lu Quan, a social security expert at Renmin University of China, said adding the financial functions will make the cards easier to use and could provide a means of establishing a single social-insurance system in the future.
At the same time, Lu said more private information had to be put on the social insurance cards to make them capable of performing banking functions.
"A bank card only contains information about a person's financial status," he said. "But if the card also records a person's social-insurance status, it will include other information such as information about diseases, former jobs or even family members. So information security is a big concern."
Residents throughout China will be encouraged to use the new cards by the end of 2015, Hu said.
(China Daily 08/31/2011 page4)