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China to grant residence rights to 13 million unregistered citizens

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China will give household registration permits to its unregistered citizens and make medical insurance coverage more equal, the government said on Wednesday, as it looks to overhaul systems often under fire for failing those people most in need.

[BEIJING] China will give household registration permits to its unregistered citizens and make medical insurance coverage more equal, the government said on Wednesday, as it looks to overhaul systems often under fire for failing those people most in need.

The move on household registration - or "hukou" - will open access to basic rights such as schooling and healthcare for about 13 million people. Hukou are needed if a person wishes to marry, open a bank account, take out medical insurance and get access to basic education.

But many have been locked out of the system because their births flouted China's strict one-child policy, or they were orphans or homeless.

The Xinhua state news agency also said China had approved plans to merge its two medical insurance schemes for urban and rural residents, aiming to give more equal access to healthcare. Rural primary care currently lags far behind levels in major cities.

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China says it offers health insurance to almost all of its near 1.4 billion people, but the schemes still often require patients to pay large amounts out of pocket, a major pressure on families, especially with major diseases such as cancer.

The ruling Chinese Communist Party announced in October it was reforming the family planning policy to allow couples to have two children after decades of the one-child policy, a move aimed at alleviating demographic strains on the economy.

Xinhua put the number of unregistered people at around 13 million. "It is a basic legal right for Chinese citizens to lawfully register for hukou. It's also a premise for citizens to participate in social affairs, enjoy rights and fulfil duties,"state television CCTV reported, citing a statement released after a government meeting on reform.

Registration should take place irrespective of family planning and other policy limits, the statement said.

REUTERS

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