Protest Erupts in Wuhan as Health Benefit Cuts Affect Millions of Retirees

By Mary Hong
Mary Hong
Mary Hong
Mary Hong has contributed to The Epoch Times since 2020. She has reported on Chinese human rights issues and politics.
February 9, 2023Updated: February 14, 2023

A large protest erupted in Wuhan after the Chinese regime reduced the health benefit payments by more than two-thirds. Protesters surrounded the city hall and jammed a nearby roadway. The government dispatched special police, as an online video shows.

On Feb. 8, thousands of retirees gathered in front of the Wuhan city hall wanting an answer from the mayor as to why their medical benefits have been cut from 260 yuan (about $38) a month to 83 yuan (about $12).

Some Wuhan residents told the Chinese language edition of The Epoch Times that the protesters are just ordinary people and low-income retirees in Wuhan whose livelihoods are greatly impacted by the lowered payments.

Interviewees provided their surnames only for fear of reprisal from the Communist regime.

Time to Wake Up

Wuhan resident Mr. Gao said, “Now it’s only 80 plus [yuan], … not even enough for one prescription.”

In Wuhan, there are nearly two million retirees from various industries affected by the reduction of the health benefit, according to Gao.

He said that among the protesters, there were also people protesting the cut in funeral expense claims, that went from 70,000 yuan (about $10,310) to 30,000 yuan (about $4,420) per person. Just last year, it was further reduced to 19,000 yuan (about $2,800).

Mr. Chu, another Wuhan resident, said to The Epoch Times, “People should wake up, … it was step by step, from nucleic acid [testing], to vaccines, funeral expenses, and now our medical insurance fund, what do we have left to live [on]?”

Zhang Hai, a Wuhan native, reminded The Epoch Times that the dual system under the Communist ruling guarantees full coverage for officials, but leaves the ordinary people struggling for everything, including their health.

According to a Radio Free Asia report, the protesters anticipate a larger scale protest will occur in Zhongshan Park on the 15 if no response is heard from the officials.

Online posts said that plainclothes police removed some of the elderly protesters.

Finances Drained for Three Years

Before the zero-COVID policy was lifted, people suspected that reform of the Chinese health insurance was on its way after three years of strict prevention measures that were expensive to implement and run.

According to an article by the Chinese media NetEase on Jan. 17, the nation’s finances have been drained by trillions of yuan after three years of pandemic prevention.

On Feb. 1, Wuhan indeed started to reduce monthly medical benefits. Regular retirees received only 83 yuan while flexible employment retirees received just 66 yuan (about $9.74)—20 percent less than the regular retirees received.

The article also explained that the new policy has a drastic impact on people in the category of flexible employment.

Flexible employment refers to people who are not permanently employed, but are self-employed, work part-time, are freelancers, are temporary workers, etc.

The flexible employment workers contribute 414.7 yuan (about $61.09) a month to the health insurance plan, including 7 yuan ($0.15) for major illnesses. Such workers, before and after retirement, received payments to their personal health insurance account to cover medicines.

However, with the new policy, the payments before retirement ceased.

The NetEase article said, “That means you will continue contributing to the plan, but there won’t be a dime back in your account.”

According to the National Bureau of Statistics, the number of flexible employees in China was 200 million people at the end of 2021.

Xia Song and Yi Ru contributed to this report.