China improving rural access to medical care

Updated: 2008-03-04 20:20

BEIJING -- "You might have to leave school soon." That message came to Tao Mengling last spring, just half a year before her scheduled college graduation, in a heart-rending letter from her father.

Tao's mother had a meningeal tumor, and it was driving the family deep into debt.

But the story had a happy ending for everyone. The family appeared on CCTV on Monday evening to tell their story. The rural cooperative medical care system, launched in 2003, eased the family's financial burden. The mother got better and the daughter graduated, going on to work in Beijing.

Tao's mother had surgery in Shanghai last June, which cost the family 60,000 yuan (8,451 US dollars), most of it borrowed from relatives. Two months later, her mother got 18,000 yuan in reimbursement from the local medical insurance authority in Changfeng county in eastern Anhui Province.

"It saved my wife and my daughter. Without help from the government, I would have had to quit," said the father, Tao Jihe, who makes a living by making meat buns in Gangji town. His annual income is around 10,000 yuan.

A national health survey in 2003 revealed that about 73 percent of those in rural areas who should have had medical treatment didn't do so for fear of the costs.

The plight of farmers prompted national leaders to move to set up rural medical cooperatives and a nationwide safety net of minimal medical insurance.

The central government began to promote the new cooperative medical care program in 2003. A farmer participant pays 10 yuan a year, while the state, provincial, municipal and county governments jointly contribute 40 yuan for the cooperative fund.

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