Chinese Rural Residents Suffer from Lack of Health Care

By Shen Hua, Radio Free Asia
December 8, 2005 12:00 am Last Updated: December 8, 2005 12:00 am

According to the China-based newspaper, Nanfang City Daily, on November 25, You Guoying (female), a peasant originally from Sichuan who was working in Taizhou, Zhejiang Province, was hospitalized for suffering from a cerebral hemorrhage (stroke). The cost of You's hospitalization depleted the whole families' savings in three days. Then, You was forced to leave the hospital. However, her landlord didn't like the idea of having a dead person on the property and refused to let her go back to her home. Without a place to go, You's daughter, who worked with her, had no choice but to take You to a funeral home to wait for her death. She eventually was able to go back to the hospital because the warm-hearted workers at the funeral home and the hospital raised 60,000 yuan for her. However, it wouldn't be enough to save her life.

Liu Zhengyou, a peasant from Zigong, Sichuan Province, told The Epoch Times that three of his family members died recently because they could not afford to see a doctor. The following is a conversation on the medical system in China between Liu Zhengyou and professor Gordon G. Liu of the University of North Carolina who studies China's health policies.

Reporter: Mr. Liu Zhengyou, what's your opinion about the issue? Is it really difficult for the peasants to visit doctors?

Liu Zhengyou: Indeed. I just buried my grand aunt today.

Reporter: What did she die of?

Liu Zhengyou: Hypertension and a chronic disease. Like my parents and my younger brother, many peasants cannot afford the high costs at the hospitals. They have had to leave the diseases untreated and eventually the illnesses worsen and they have no choice but to die. It's extremely miserable. My parents and my younger brother died one after another within the past three years!

Reporter: Could her diseases have been treated?

Liu Zhengyou: Yes, with money. All the family members could do is to break off a door to use as a sick bed. It is so common in our village. Relatives, children, and grandchildren surround the patient until his or her last breath. Some might have to wait for several days. The peasants do not have health insurance. Some go to phony doctors when they get sick or buy some medicines from the drug store. This has resulted in the market of fake drugs in the villages and is a very serious problem now. Nowadays peasants are really miserable. The government only reimburses peasants like us, who have lost our farming land, several dozen yuan per month. This amount won't even pay for enough food, let alone medicine.

Reporter: Professor Liu, during the 1960s and 1970s, there was a Rural Cooperative Medical Scheme and the situation back then seemed to be better than it is now. Why has the situation worsened and become so difficult for peasants to obtain medical care?

Professor Liu: Currently, the government provides almost nothing for basic medical care to rural dwellers. Even though recently there is the “New Rural Cooperative Medical Scheme,” it's still at the experimental stage.

Prior to 1984, the Rural Cooperative Medical Scheme was widely distributed and covered over 90 percent of the rural medical care, and people had to pay very little. The “People's Commune system” was the financial foundation for the Rural Cooperative Medical Scheme.

During the 1980s, the “People's Commune system” was disintegrated. Without the system, the scheme lost its financial support. Additionally, the government not only took over the farming land, the only income resource of the farmers, but also has not been able to provide any other form of rural health plan. The peasants were left with nothing but untreated diseases.

In my opinion, the Chinese government will not be able to afford such high medical expenses for each peasant because there are about 800-900 million people in the rural areas in China. What we ought to do is to provide basic health care for the entire public so that some rural populations will receive timely medical care before minor illnesses become incurable.

Reporter: Professor Liu mentioned that the Chinese government is still experimenting with the New Rural Cooperative Medical Scheme in some rural areas. Does Mr. Liu Zhengyou have a similar ongoing experiment close to your town?

Liu Zhenyou: No. We had the Rural Cooperative Medical Scheme. However, it was gone after the late 1980s and it become privately owned. All the private sectors care about is money. The peasants have no guarantee for any basic medical insurance.

Reporter: Professor Liu, you just said that we should provide basic health insurance for the peasants. But how will this health insurance be supported? According to the current experimental medical care policy, it seems that they require each farmer to contribute a little money.

Professor Liu: Yes, the experimental New Rural Cooperative Medical Scheme works like this- the federal government contributes 10 yuan, the local government contributes 10 yuan, and the peasant contributes 10 yuan. It's not promoted nationwide–only at the experimental locations. Personally I do not think this “three-10 policy” would be enough. Thirty yuan is nothing. People in the urban area pay 400 to 500 yuan per person each year.

I think the federal government should appropriate a certain amount of funds to establish a basic health insurance plan. This plan should cover all individuals equally in the population, including those in the rural area.

You can imagine that if people lack basic health insurance, sick people will delay getting treatment and eventually will not be able to afford the tens of thousands of yuan to go to the hospital for severe illness.