Donations for sick child star's care arouse mixed reaction

CHINA - A large sum of money has been donated to a young celebrity diagnosed with a critical disease, prompting a heated discussion on the even-handedness of charitable giving.

Deng Minghe, a 7-year-old boy famous for his performances on China Central Television's annual Spring Festival Gala for the past two years, is being treated in Beijing Children's Hospital for leukemia.

On Tuesday, two cultural companies in Beijing each donated 1 million yuan (S$201,000) to the Treatment for Poor Children Foundation, which was founded by the former president of Beijing Children's Hospital in 2003.

According to an employee at the foundation, who gave only her surname, Su, the 2 million yuan donation will be exclusively used for Deng's treatment.

"We have come to an agreement in which the companies demanded the money be used only for the treatment of Deng Minghe," Su said on Wednesday, adding that she had worked with the foundation for three months. "As far as I know, about 90 to 100 children are registered with us (to receive financial help). But we don't have enough money to pay for all of their treatment."

The donation has prompted questions from netizens, who have queried whether the money is going to the most needy.

"I think if people want to give money, they should give it to those from poor families who have serious diseases," wrote a netizen on Sina Weibo, the popular micro blog service. "A family that can get their child onto the stage of the Spring Festival Gala can't be poor."

Deng's grandfather, 54-year-old Deng Qinghua, said his grandson is in a positive mental state but had lost his appetite after the first course of chemotherapy.

He said Deng Minghe had been taken to a hospital in his hometown for a blood test on the third day of the Chinese New Year. The child was taken to Beijing Children's Hospital the same afternoon when the test results were returned.

According to Deng, the family chose Beijing Children's Hospital because it is, "the best hospital in the country to treat children".

"We haven't used the donations yet. Right now we can afford the medical expense," he said.

In 2012, the Ministry of Health asked all provinces to give more financial support to rural families whose children suffered leukemia, and stated that health insurance should reimburse 70 per cent of the medical expense.

But it is unlikely these families would get as much reimbursement if they visit a hospital elsewhere, because seeking treatment outside the province can make it hard to control treatment standards and how much treatments cost, thus how much their local insurance should cover.

Deng Qinghua said his grandson has a rural residential permit in his hometown - Daming county, Hebei province.

However, according to an official surnamed Wang in charge of health insurance for the county's rural residents, Deng will get much less reimbursement, and families can get the reimbursement only after their children are treated in the province, according to Wang.

"In Deng's case, reimbursement policies for treating less severe diseases apply," he said. "They can get 50 per cent of the medical fees incurred during hospitalization reimbursed if it is above 2,000 yuan. The insurance pays at most 90,000 yuan."

The complexity of reimbursement policies is a result of variations in national standards determining how much to pay for what disease for rural residents, the official said.

"Different provinces, cities and even counties have different levels of economic development, and their own rural health insurance funds vary in financial capacity," he said, explaining why different provinces have different reimbursement policies.

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