Elderly Protest in China Over Reduced Medical Benefits

Hundreds of Chinese retirees took to the streets in the cities of Wuhan and Dalian on Wednesday to protest the government’s decision to cut medical benefits for the elderly.[0] The protest, which also spread to the coastal city of Dalian, is the latest demonstration of public frustration with the zero-Covid policy that was relaxed last year amid nationwide demonstrations and mounting costs.[1]

Social media footage showed a large crowd of elderly protesters in raincoats and holding umbrellas rallying in front of the Wuhan city government by the Yangtze River.[2] Police officers in high-visibility jackets linked arms to prevent the protesters from approaching the gates.[3] In other clips, elderly demonstrators were seen encircling a police car, singing the Internationale and vociferously voicing slogans.[4]

The protesters, mostly retired workers at the Wuhan Iron and Steel plant, were calling for the restoration of their medical benefits to the original level of 260 yuan (£32) a month, which was cut to 88 or 82 yuan.[3] The cuts are part of a restructuring of the national health insurance system, with local governments reducing the amount of money deposited into personal accounts.[5]

The protests come just as China emerges from the brutal Covid wave, and put pressure on President Xi Jinping's administration just weeks before the annual National People's Congress.[6] They are rooted in the reduction of social benefits for the city’s elderly, who have seen their monthly allowance for medical expenses cut from $38 per month to $12.[7]

In response to the demonstration, Wuhan authorities have yet to issue a statement, however, a report concerning the grievances regarding the health insurance reform appeared on a Chinese government website the day after.[8] Local authorities stated that, even though retired workers had their medical expense claims decreased, they would now be able to enjoy improved healthcare access and end up saving money.[8]

No public comment has been made by police or government officials concerning the matter.[1] But a heavy police presence is visible in the footage and, in at least one instance, officers appear to attempt to restrain the crowd.[9]

China's elderly population makes up a fifth of its 1.4 billion people, and the country’s population shrank in 2022 for the first time in more than 60 years due to a demographic crisis with significant implications for the economy and elderly care.[1]

0. “China: Protests in Wuhan, Dalian Highlight Risk of Unrest Amid Economic Dip” Stratfor Worldview, 15 Feb. 2023, https://worldview.stratfor.com/situation-report/china-protests-wuhan-dalian-highlight-risk-unrest-amid-economic-dip

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

2. “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

3. “In Wuhan, thousands of retirees protest slashed medical benefits” Radio Free Asia, 8 Feb. 2023, https://www.rfa.org/english/news/china/wuhan-protests-02082023125905.html

4. “Hundreds of retirees in China take to the streets to protest cuts to medical benefits” AOL, 16 Feb. 2023, https://www.aol.com/news/hundreds-retirees-china-streets-protest-124626650.html

5. “Retirees in China protest cuts to health benefits” The Week, 16 Feb. 2023, https://theweek.com/china/1021058/thousands-of-retirees-in-china-protest-cuts-to-government-health-benefits

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

7. “Social media shows retirees protesting social cuts in Wuhan, China” La Prensa Latina, 15 Feb. 2023, https://www.laprensalatina.com/social-media-shows-retirees-protesting-social-cuts-in-wuhan-china

8. “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

9. “Protests in Wuhan over health insurance underscore risks for China govt” The Straits Times, 15 Feb. 2023, https://www.straitstimes.com/asia/east-asia/protests-in-wuhan-over-health-insurance-underscore-risks-for-china-govt