China launched a landmark health care revamp that aims to provide basic care for all by 2020, reforming an unpopular system seen as costly, badly funded and providing shoddy treatment.
The programme seeks to provide "safe, effective, convenient and affordable" health services for every one of the country's 1.3 billion people, the State Council, or Cabinet, said.
AdvertisementIn a policy document published Monday, it acknowledged "pressing problems that have caused strong complaints from the public."
Few details of the reforms have been spelled out, but the official Xinhua news agency said the government Tuesday kicked off an initial three-year plan that will see 850 billion yuan (124 billion dollars) invested.
Health care has long been a source of discontent among the nation's people since cradle-to-grave social security systems were systematically dismantled amid China's transformation into today's cut-throat capitalist society.
The situation has been particularly hard for masses of rural poor who must use their own meagre savings to pay for sub-par medical services at backward and ill-equipped clinics and hospitals.
A serious illness can destroy a family's life savings -- a factor that has been blamed by many economists for restricting consumer spending in China as families squirrel money away to pay for such emergencies.
Chinese policy-makers have identified compulsive saving as a key threat to the government's hopes of creating a consumer society in China to reduce the economy's reliance on foreign exports.
The three-year implementation plan aims to provide basic medical insurance to 90 percent of the population by 2011, Xinhua reported.
About 7,000 hospitals or clinics also would be built within that time, the China Daily newspaper said.
The move is the latest pledge by the government to address shortcomings in its social safety net amid fears that a slowing economy, mounting joblessness and insufficient government services could lead to unrest.
Last month Premier Wen Jiabao vowed massive new spending in social security systems to help millions left jobless by the effects of the global financial crisis.