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Chinese retirees march against health insurance cuts.

Hong Kong – Retirees in the central Chinese city of Wuhan and the northeastern city of Dalian took to the streets last week to express their outrage over the local government’s curtailing of medical insurance coverage.

Photos and videos of demonstrations circulating online show crowds of senior citizens gathering in various areas of the two cities, including a local hospital and park in Wuhan and a public square outside a district government building in Dalian. Some protesters can be heard singing “The Internationale.” A heavy police presence is seen in several video clips, but it remains unknown whether police have arrested any protesters as a result of the demonstrations.

Seniors participating in the rallies are protesting against proposed changes to the country’s medical insurance system.

Health insurance contributions in China are currently divided into two distinct parts: a communal pool of funds managed by the government and an individual’s personal account.

Under recent guidelines published by China’s State Council, a larger percentage of health insurance capital will be channeled into government-run funds, leaving less in the pot to pad out personal accounts.

With retirees receiving less personal benefits, it is feared the revision will force overall costs to soar unless healthy residents start to visit their doctors more frequently.

For example, starting Feb. 1 in Wuhan, medical insurance benefits for retirees were reduced from about 5% of the region’s average basic pension (260 yuan, or around ¥5,100) to 2.5%, or 83 yuan, per month. Similarly in Dalian, local retirees will receive 80 yuan in their personal accounts monthly.

To defuse the protests, the Wuhan government said that, while it is true that the reforms will lead to lower payments into individual’s personal accounts in the short term, in the long term, out-of-pocket expenses paid by individuals will be reduced because the city will accumulate funds and allow it to offer higher reimbursements for health care costs.

The protest was the second one in a week in Wuhan, which is home to more than 11 million people. The first protest over the same issue took place on Feb. 8, according to video footage circulating on social media.

The unrest hasn’t reached the same scale as the demonstrations that took place across China late last year, when tens of thousands took to the streets to protest against the government’s draconian “zero-COVID” restrictions.

Still, the protests highlight the challenges that Beijing faces as it deals with an aging population and shrinking workforce. Local governments are particularly cash-strapped after more than three years of enforcing mass testing, centralized quarantine and citywide lockdowns under the nation’s zero-COVID policy.

In China, the medical insurance system for employees covers around 354 million individuals. There are 280 million elderly people age 60 and over in the country, making up a fifth of the country’s total population of 1.4 billion.

Source: japan times