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Chinese pin hope on new health care reform plan

Source: Xinhua | 01-23-2009 08:19

BEIJING, Jan. 22 (Xinhua) -- China's multi-billion yuan health reform plan has aroused people's hope for changes to its creaking medical system, which has long been a key source of public discontent.

The plan, passed on Wednesday by the State Council, or Cabinet, promised to spend 850 billion yuan (123 billion U.S. dollars) by 2011 to provide a universal primary medical service to the country's 1.3 billion people.

Goals of the reforms include a minimum 90 percent coverage of medical insurance, a system of "basic medicines" covered by the insurance, an improved network of local-level clinics, a better public health system and improved services in public hospitals.

The plan, the draft of which was widely criticized by the public as being too general and full of empty words, received positive response from most scholars.

"It is much more specific than the draft," Cai Renhua, dean of the School of Public Health of the Shanghai Jiao Tong University told Xinhua on Thursday. "It sets clear goals and money to be spent."

"But we still need a detailed timetable. We need to know how the plan is to be implemented," he said.

According to media reports, an implementation scheme (2009-2011) was adopted by the State Council on Wednesday along with the plan. But so far, the full texts of the plan and the scheme have not been publicized.

The health care sector is one of the weak links in China's social welfare system. Soaring medical fees, a lack of access to affordable medical services, poor doctor-patient relations and low medical insurance coverage compelled the government to launch the new round of reforms.

Li Ling, professor with the National School of Development of the Peking University, said the announcement of multi-billion health care investment against the background of the financial crisis, will help stimulate China's domestic demand.

"People's purchasing capacity will increase if they don't have to worry about expensive medical fees," she said.