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Zhongwei Zhao, Hongbo Jia and Jiaying Zhao

Great disparities in health, morbidity and chances of survival exist widely across different populations. These disparities are closely related to and often caused by inequalities in levels of income, standards of living and accessibility to high-quality health services and care. Health disparities can also increase the gap in income and living conditions that already exist in a population. As important strategies, social medical insurance and financial assistance have been developed to address such health inequities and their negative externalities on vulnerable social groups. Through an analysis of health and demographic data collected and published by the Chinese government, national censuses and surveys, and a review of the existing literature and official documents, this chapter aims to provide a systematic introduction to the development of China’s health insurance and medical financial assistance programmes, and their contributions to the improvement of social welfare in its urban and rural areas.