BEIJING - Cheaper medical care and more support will be made available to the poor and elderly this year, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said on Tuesday (March 20) as he promised further reforms to the healthcare and elderly pension systems.
The government will raise subsidies for basic healthcare insurance and increase coverage for serious diseases, Mr Li said.
Its target is to have more than 20 million people covered under its serious disease insurance scheme, up from over 17 million people last year.
"We have more than 30 million people still living in poverty... many of them face the risk of falling back into poverty because of a serious illness," said Mr Li.
More than 80 per cent of China's population has access to basic medical care, but many living in deeply impoverished areas still lack this basic service.
Mr Li said the government will also "phase in" zero tariff rates for drugs, including much needed anti-cancer drugs, to make them more affordable.
The premier was fielding questions at a press conference after the close of this year's National People's Congress session on Tuesday.
He pledged that his government will continue to "put the people first", address their concerns and make more resources and services available.
Asked how the government intends to provide adequate support for the elderly, defined in China as those above the age of 60, Mr Li said the government will establish a central system this year to make sure old-age pensions are disbursed in full and on time.
Each province will have to contribute 3 per cent of its funds to be used for this purpose - some provinces have had problems making payments in the past because of a drop in their fiscal revenues.
"These measures will help to deliver adequate old-age support... it will be really disappointing if decades of hard work cannot earn one a decent retirement in China," said Mr Li.
Population expert Zhou Haiwang from the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences said these policies, if executed well, will lighten the people's burdens.
But he said the government should pay attention to pensions in rural villages which are much lower than those in cities.
"In some farming villages, retirees get less than 100 yuan (S$21) a month, not enough to maintain a basic standard of living," he said.