By Francis Markus
More than a third of Chinese people who fall ill do not go to the doctor because they cannot afford the cost, a government survey has found.
Some patients leave hospital early to cut costs, the report found
The investigation, reported by state media this week, sampled nearly 200,000 rural and urban residents.
The problem is the cost of medical care is going up far faster than incomes.
Officials said another major cause of the problem is that doctors are prescribing expensive drugs in order to increase hospital revenues.
The survey, which was conducted last year by the Ministry of Health, found that the crisis is at its worst among rural Chinese, who form the bulk of the population.
An average stay in hospital will eat up almost an entire average farmer's annual income, leaving less than $50 change.
China is experimenting with a rural health insurance system under which farmers pay a small contribution which is then matched by government cash.
Beijing says it plans to implement the scheme nationwide by 2010.
But some analysts say the idea is likely to be undermined by people's reluctance to put in money that they are not sure they can get back.