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Health Policy Plan. 2004 May;19(3):159-65.

Development of the rural health insurance system in China.

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Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, MA, USA.


Ever since the collapse of the once successful Rural Cooperative Medical System (RCMS) in the early 1980s, when China transformed its system of collective agricultural production to private production, many rural communities, especially the poorer residents, have faced several major problems. In 1993, insurance coverage for rural residents was already low, at 12.8%. By 1998, only 9.5% of the rural population was insured. User charges have effectively blocked access for many rural residents who lack adequate income to purchase basic health care when needed. Impoverishment due to medical expenses is also a serious problem, which begs the question: why has there been no vigorous development of the rural health insurance system in China despite the country's rapid economic growth? This paper analyzes the major underlying reasons for the lack of rural health insurance in China. We found that lack of demand for the voluntary community financing schemes and inadequate government policies are the two major hindrances. Recently, the Chinese government announced a new rural health financing policy that relies on 'matching-funds' by the central and local governments as well as household contributions. The potential for success of this new model might be inferred from China's past experiences, as well as from the pilot projects that are underway.

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