Priorities for government expenditure will be given to areas related to people’s lives, especially compulsory education and basic medical care, Premier Li Keqiang said at a press conference on March 11 after the closing of the fourth session of the 13th National People's Congress.
Responding to a question related to government’s measures to address the problems of people's livelihoods, the Premier said with a modest increase over the previous year, total fiscal spending for this year is no small amount, and will be weighted towards the wide range of areas related to people’s lives, especially compulsory education and basic medical care.
If the economy continues to grow in the second half of the year, a greater share of budgetary expenditures and funds raised by issuing government bonds will be put into these areas.
“Such inputs may not make a big difference in driving GDP growth for the current year, but they are critical for laying a solid foundation for China’s long-term development and bettering people’s lives,” the Premier said, adding education and health concern the future of every family and every nation.
He also stressed adhering to the development thinking of putting people at the center, which is an important component of Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era.
No child should be left behind
While answering the question of why fiscal expenditures will give priority to compulsory education, the Premier started with a story.
While he was attending the deliberation of a provincial delegation during the two sessions this year, a high school principal told him in county and township secondary schools, quality teachers are in short supply, and their pay packages are inadequate, making it difficult for them to further their education, the Premier said.
He then said resolute efforts will be taken this year to increase investment in on-the-job training for teachers at county and township levels. Preferential arrangements will be made for their professional title assessments.
The Premier stressed children of migrant workers must have access to education in cities as long as they get urban residency permits.
No child should be left behind at the starting line because of family backgrounds or area differences, the Premier said. “Educational fairness is most important in ensuring equal access to opportunities,” he added.
Easier access to medical services, less financial burden
Premier Li said medical institutions in counties and townships are still weak and people have to go to big hospitals in big cities for medical treatment, thus the government will increase funding support for those institutions and health clinics through multiple channels this year.
He also said the government will take a series of concrete steps to expand the coverage of reimbursement of outpatient bills and medical expenses for common disease drugs, and lower the prices of drugs and high-priced consumables.
The purpose is to help make access to medical services easier and lessen the financial burden on patients, the Premier said, adding this will also help consolidate the gains achieved in ending abject poverty, so people won’t fall back into poverty because of illness.
“Good health is the foundation of happiness, and also in itself a productive force”, the Premier said.
More preferential policies for community-based services
The government will rely more on private actors in running community-based services in terms of elderly and child care, and the government will offer more tax preferential policies so families will have less burden and feel the warmth of government support, the Premier said.
China’s social security system intends to meet people’s basic needs with a broad-based coverage, he added, stressing more social protection through development and the focus on top priorities.
Compulsory education and basic medical care are things that concern every individual as well as the future of the country, the Premier stressed, and urged governments at all levels to fully live up to their responsibilities in these fields.
Free elderly people from trouble of reimbursement
At a news conference several years ago, Premier Li urged the realization of the inter-provincial on-the-spot reimbursement of hospitalization bills through individual accounts of basic medical insurance. This year, a journalist said this problem has been solved. However, that is not yet the case for expenses incurred in seeing a doctor or taking prescription drugs for the many living and working in cities away from their homes, including the elderly.
The reporter then asked the Premier when the inter-provincial on-the-spot reimbursement of outpatient bills could be realized.
Premier Li said this is an issue raised by many people in their posts on the government’s portal website, and the government is determined to have this problem resolved over time.
The Premier set a timetable. “By the end of this year, we will further expand coverage of inter-provincial on-the-spot reimbursement of outpatient bills. By the end of next year, every county will have one designated medical institution which will be able to settle on-the-spot inter-provincially outpatient bills and other medical expenses,” he said.
“We should free elderly people from such trouble,” the Premier said.
If government officials care more and do more on these fronts, they will make life much easier for the elderly people and their families, according to the Premier.