China vows renewed push to help families plunged into poverty by illness
Millions of remote and rural residents still falling through the medical insurance net, official says
Beijing has pledged to tackle the two biggest barriers to the national goal of raising all families above the poverty line by 2020.
Liu Yongfu, director of the State Council Leading Group Office of Poverty Alleviation and Development, said more than 55.6 million rural residents who used to have an annual income of less than 2,300 yuan (US$347) had been “lifted out of poverty” since 2012 and another 10 million were expected to make the transition this year.
But further inroads were needed for people living in the most remote areas or who had fallen through the net because of illness, Liu said in Beijing on Tuesday, a week ahead of the country’s national poverty alleviation day.
He said there were six provinces where there were more than 3 million people below the poverty line and nearly 30,000 villages where at least 20 per cent of the population were deemed impoverished. Those areas included Tibet, the Tibetan areas of Sichuan province and southern parts of Xinjiang.
“These areas suffer deep poverty and the reasons are complicated, with dreadful living conditions and poor infrastructure. It is very difficult to lift these areas out of poverty in less than four years,” Liu said.
He said about 44 per cent of impoverished rural people had been plunged into poverty by a severe illness in the family, two percentage points more than two years ago.
The central government has tried to ease the health burden on rural families through a public medical insurance scheme called the New Rural Cooperative Medical System. The heavily subsidised scheme was launched around 2003 and offers higher reimbursements on medical bills if claimants stay in their home areas for treatment.
But the low premiums meant not all illnesses were covered.
Li Bin, minister of the National Health and Family Planning Commission, told the country’s legislature, the National People’s Congress, in August that according to a national survey 7.34 million people from 5.53 million families were living under the poverty line last year because of severe illness.
Li said the commission had come up with an action plan to help families affected by any one of nine severe illnesses, including childhood leukaemia, congenital heart disease and some cancers.
He told the legislature that general public medical insurance reimbursements would rise by 5 per cent for the rural poor and another scheme would be set up to cover medical expenses associated with severe illnesses.
Li said the poorest families would be given financial and social support to greatly reduce the amount they had to pay from their pocket so that “there would be nothing that could shock our moral bottom line”.