China expands national healthcare insurance to cover serious illnesses

China expands national healthcare insurance to cover serious illnesses
Friday, Aug 31, 2012
China Daily/Asia News Network
By Shan Juan, Wang Qingyun, Li Yao

CHINA - China on Thursday announced a decision to expand the coverage of the country's healthcare insurance system to include the treatment of critical illnesses, aiming to prevent patients from being reduced to poverty by necessary healthcare costs.

The new arrangement will further increase the level of protection that China's healthcare insurance system can offer, according to a document co-issued by the National Development and Reform Commission and five other central government departments.

Sun Zhigang, head of the health reform office under the State Council, said it aims to ensure that each patient's total medical expenditure is no more than the "household expenditure for healthcare," which is set at the level of the regional annual per capita disposable or net income.

In an interview with Xinhua News Agency, Sun said when patients' medical bills for necessary treatments under the existing basic healthcare insurance system exceed that level, they will be reimbursed by the newly launched critical illness insurance project.

Though around 1.3 billion people, or more than 95 per cent of China's population, were covered by the healthcare insurance system by the end of last year, medical expenditure burdens incurred by patients with severe medical conditions remain heavy, Sun said.

"The new move targets the widely recognised problem of 'people falling into poverty because of illnesses', and aims to ensure that most people won't become impoverished because of diseases," Sun said.

Local governments have been asked to design regulations on fundraising, reimbursement and other details regarding the new insurance plan in line with local conditions, according to the document.

Since July 2011, Taicang, a city in Jiangsu province, has allocated 21.68 million yuan ($3.41 million), or 3 per cent of the surplus from the basic medical insurance fund, to establish coverage for severe and chronic diseases, benefiting 2,604 patients.

Authorities backed for commercial insurance companies to widen the coverage of serious illnesses, especially for rural households unable to afford high medical costs.

Qualified commercial insurers will be selected to operate the critical-illness insurance programme through bidding, the document said.

As China is undergoing reform in its healthcare system, one direction is to explore ways to let commercial insurance companies operate medical insurance services.

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