Elderly in China Protest Health Insurance Changes

In early February, some local governments in China implemented changes to their health insurance plans, to the dismay of many elders. According to NBC News, these changes mean that “more employer contributions will go into a collective pool of funds rather than individuals’ savings accounts.” Keith Bradsher (he/him) explained in a report for The New York Times that the collective pool is used to pay for hospital care, while personal accounts pay for an individual’s medications and outpatient care. Bradhser described how only about a quarter of citizens has this employer-financed insurance with personal accounts. The rest of the population (mostly low-income or rural) has “residents insurance,” which generally provides fewer benefits.

Hospitals have be strained in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, prompting funds to be diverted away from personal accounts. On February 15th, protests broke out in the cities of Wuhan and Dalian, described by CNN as “small-scale public protests at the local level.” During the protests, some sang a communist anthem, “The Internationale.”

The Japan Times reported that in Wuhan, retirees’ personal insurance account benefits decreased from 5 percent of China’s average pension per month to 2.5 percent. Winnie Yip (she/her), a professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, told NBC News that the changes would create “a more equitable system” and free up funds for those with serious health issues. She said the goal was to share risks, and that “part of the understanding is also for healthy people to know that one day they will be ill, and then they will be protected.”

Many compare these demonstrations to their predecessor, protests against China’s “zero-COVID” policy. Nationwide demonstrations caused the government to loosen restrictions in late 2022. The zero-COVID policy implemented a strict set of procedures in an attempt to keep COVID cases as close to zero as possible. According to VOA News, the government conducted “mass testing, quarantined the sick in government facilities and imposed strict lockdowns that can span entire cities.” This policy took a toll on the nation’s economy, and put municipal governments under the financial stress that motivated the shift in healthcare benefits.

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