So far this year, more than 70 million people who required medical treatment outside their home provinces — and previously would have had to pay the full amount upfront — were able to pay only a portion of their expenses not covered by insurance.
The change has been welcomed by groups including rural migrant workers and retirees, who often move across the country for job opportunities or to help care for their grandchildren.
Those requiring medical treatment outside their home provinces have been saved the trouble of paying as much as 97 billion yuan ($13.3 billion) out-of-pocket first, and then being required to head back to their hometowns to file an insurance claim to be reimbursed, Huang Huabo, deputy head of the National Healthcare Security Administration, which oversees the country's sprawling national basic medical insurance program, said at a news conference in Beijing on Monday.
The number of people that have benefited from the change was nearly three and a half times the previous year.
China's social safety net programs, including the healthcare plan, are typically managed by local authorities from county to provincial governments. That creates trouble for people who wish to seek medical services elsewhere.
The problem drew the attention of the central authorities in 2014, when the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security and several other agencies issued a guideline to begin the creation of a national unified medical cost refunding system.
By last month, more than 475,100 hospitals and pharmacies had participated in the program to allow out-of-town patients to pay bills using their social security cards, which means that some costs would be exempted on the spot, Huang said.
According to a report released by the National Bureau of Statistics in April, China had more than 70 million migrant workers employed outside their home provinces last year, down 690,000 year-on-year due to an increase of job opportunities in inland regions where such workers are typically from.
A separate report by the NBS showed that in 2020, 26.6 percent of China's population was classified as floating, or without local permanent residency.
Data from the National Health Commission showed there were some 18 million elderly individuals who accompanied their children to a new province last year — frequently to take care of grandchildren, or because they rely on their children for support.