One billion yuan earmarked to make services more affordable in poor areas Beijing will earmark 1 billion yuan next year for a government-sponsored scheme designed to deliver more affordable health-care services to people in the country's underdeveloped central and western regions. Finance Ministry official Song Qichao was quoted by China Central Television on Tuesday as saying the central government would budget 3 to 4 yuan for each person in the central and western regions, including Henan and Shaanxi , in a bid to drive down the price of basic medical care. The scheme will, for the first time, tie the amount of funding for each medical facility to the amount and level of services they can provide, and fund the provision of basic care such as conventional medical check-ups and vaccinations for the disabled, the elderly and other disadvantaged groups. The new initiative follows growing public anger over spiralling medical costs in the two decades since the government opted out of a primitive, but free, medical care system in favour of a market-oriented reform package which forced mainland hospitals to stay afloat by over-prescribing medication. The changes also left cash-strapped low-level administrations in poor regions and vulnerable patients to foot most of their medical bills. Beijing cut its public health-care expenditure from 2.53 per cent of its overall budget during the Seventh Five-Year Plan (1986-1990) to 1.66 per cent in the 10th Five-Year Plan (2000-2005). In August last year, a China Youth Daily survey found that 90 per cent of respondents disapproved of the past decade of mainland public health-care reform. The new scheme in the central and western regions follows a similar pilot project in Tianjin that was designed to give residents access to quality medical services at affordable prices. The scheme also offers a glimpse of national reforms in the pipeline which are expected to be unveiled next year at the 17th Communist Party Congress. Analysts say the central government initiative is moving in the right direction in addressing regional discrepancies in medical care coverage, but the key to the success of the scheme is how fairly the funding will be allocated. Tsinghua University professor Jia Xijin said the government should first have a better idea of who it was trying to reach and 'the public should also have the freedom to choose among different facilities so they can shop around for better services'. It 'should also introduce a bidding process in which medical service providers must compete for government funds to maintain their level of services', he said.