Elderly Chinese Retirees Protest Against Cuts to Medical Benefits

Hundreds of elderly Chinese retirees took to the streets of Wuhan and Dalian on Wednesday, February 15, to protest against cuts to their medical benefits.[0] The changes, which came into effect earlier this month, have been met with widespread criticism on social media, with many believing that the government is trying to recoup the money spent on compulsory Covid testing and other pandemic measures.[1]

The protest was the second in seven days in the city of Wuhan, the epicenter of the Covid-19 pandemic, and was attended by hundreds of elderly people, with police in high-visibility jackets linking arms to prevent them from approaching the gates.[2] Video clips on social media show the protesters singing the unofficial protest anthem “The Internationale.”[3] Local residents told Radio Free Asia that most of the protesters were retired workers at the Wuhan Iron and Steel plant, while others were from other state-owned enterprises, as well as disgruntled residents whose homes had been forcibly demolished.[4]

The changes to health benefits for retirees, which officials have described as reforms, come just as China emerges from its brutal Covid wave.[5] The plan has been sold as a means of trading off reimbursement levels to increase the scope of coverage to include more areas, but the cuts have been met with widespread criticism.[1] Demonstrations in various regions of China are taking place in what seems to be a resurgence of the belief in the strength of protesting, despite health insurance policies being managed at the provincial level.[1]

Officials in both Wuhan and Dalian said they had no knowledge of the protest and, as such, had no comment to make.[6] Local police stations did not answer calls.[5] At the end of last year, thousands of young Chinese took part in protests that eventually forced the government to overturn its strict zero-Covid measures.[1]

China's elderly make up a fifth of its 1.4 billion people, and the changes to health benefits come at a time of soaring healthcare costs, making it even more difficult for those already struggling.[3] The protest in Wuhan appears to be the latest display of public frustration as the country grapples with the fallout from the stringent zero-Covid policy. Residents of Wuhan have been demanding an explanation from the government as to why their medical benefits have been cut from 260 yuan (US$38) a month to less than 100 yuan (US$15).[7]

0. “Older Chinese Protest Health Care Reform That Reduces Benefits” Voice of America – VOA News, 16 Feb. 2023, https://www.voanews.com/a/older-chinese-protest-health-care-reform-that-reduces-benefits/6965399.html

1. “Retirees in China protest over slashed health benefits” Punjab News Express, 16 Feb. 2023, https://www.punjabnewsexpress.com/news/news/retirees-in-china-protest-over-slashed-health-benefits–199289

2. “WATCH | Chinese retirees protest in Wuhan over reforms to public health insurance system” WION, 15 Feb. 2023, https://www.wionews.com/world/watch-chinese-retirees-protest-in-wuhan-over-reforms-to-public-health-insurance-system-562286

3. “Elderly protest health insurance cuts in China's Wuhan” WICZ, 15 Feb. 2023, https://www.wicz.com/story/48386819/elderly-protest-health-insurance-cuts-in-chinas-wuhan

4. “Elderly Chinese people protest in Wuhan against medical benefits cuts” The Guardian, 9 Feb. 2023, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2023/feb/09/elderly-chinese-people-protest-wuhan-medical-benefits-cuts-covid

5. “Elderly in China protest over slashed health benefits” BBC, 16 Feb. 2023, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-64658729

6. “China: Retirees protest health benefits cuts” Lokmat, 16 Feb. 2023, https://www.lokmattimes.com/politics/china-retirees-protest-health-benefits-cuts/

7. “Thousands hit streets in China's Wuhan against cuts in medical benefits” ummid.com, 9 Feb. 2023, https://ummid.com/news/2023/february/09.02.2023/thousands-hit-streets-in-chinas-wuhan-against-cuts-in-medical-benefits.html