Large crowds gathered outside a local human resources and social security bureau in Guangzhou on Jan. 11, protesting a sudden reduction in payments to their personal medical insurance accounts, according to a video of the protest posted online.
It is the latest in a series of mass rallies in the city, the commercial hub of southern China and the seat of Guangdong province. Some participants told the Chinese edition of The Epoch Times that they have been protesting since the payment cuts began in December.
“The government [of Guangzhou] has reduced our personal medical insurance by two-thirds since last December, from 484 yuan ($71.35) per month to 160 yuan ($23.59) per month,” said Mr. Lin, a resident of Guangzhou, told The Epoch Times.
He only gave his last name for fear of reprisals by the Chinese regime.
Personal medical insurance is a very important financial resource for retirees, who use it to pay for outpatient appointment fees and some medical treatments, tests, scans and drugs they buy at hospitals or pharmacies, among other medical expenses.
Lin said that retirees also protested in front of provincial and municipal government buildings in December.
“We went to the Guangdong Provincial Letters and Visits Bureau and the Guangzhou Municipal Health Care Security Bureau last month, but the officials did not come out to meet us,” Lin complained about the authorities’ treatment of retirees.
Mr. Liu (pseudonym), a retired employee of Guangzhou Alloy Steel Plant, told the Chinese language edition of The Epoch Times that more than 1,000 retirees participated in a demonstration in front of the Guangzhou Healthcare Security Bureau on January 11.
“We now go to the offices of letters and visits twice a week and demand that the government return our money to us,” said Liu.
The Chinese communist regime uses the offices of letters and visits to handle Chinese petitions that file complaints against the regime’s government authorities. Chinese human rights lawyer Wu Shaoping calls these offices “a systematic trap” for petitioners, as it is “just a tactic to exhaust both the time and money of the people.”
As seen in the online videos of the protest on January 11, police vehicles lined the street and kept a close eye on the protesters. More police were seen sitting in buses parked nearby. The police cordoned off the protest site with fences. Protesters were seen negotiating with a man outside the government building in one of the online clips. In one video, a retiree is said to have been beaten by the police.
The Epoch Times could not verify the authenticity of the videos.
Mr. Lin uploaded posts of the protests to Chinese social media platforms, which were quickly removed by the regime’s internet censors, according to Lin.
Payment Deductions Illegal: Retirees
Retirees claim that the payments to their personal medical insurance accounts are their private property, since they are paid from their own contributions and those made by their employers before they retired.
Lin said he has contributed to his medical insurance funds for more than 20 years.
“The money in our personal medical insurance accounts is not government appropriation; it is our own contribution made from our monthly income,” Lin said, “The government has no right to take our money away from our personal account, which is illegal.”
According to Lin, Guangzhou residents and their employers are required to pay two percent and eight percent of an employee’s basic monthly salary, respectively, to the city’s medical insurance pool. Retirees received monthly payments of 484 yuan in their personal medical insurance accounts before local authorities changed their policies to reduce the payments.
The provincial and municipal governments issued new medical insurance documents in 2021 and 2022 respectively, but did not mention the specific amounts to be paid to employees or retirees.
However, the provincial government posted a report through a local state-owned news outlet that explained the changes in the medical insurance policies. The report said retirees would be paid 169 yuan (about $35) a month into their personal medical bills under the new policies. It also wrote that the municipal government will “exchange” personal medical insurance funds to social medical insurance pool.
Liu said he was forced to pay more than 100,000 yuan ($14,700) in social security and medical insurance before he could retire with a retirement pension and medical insurance. “This is private insurance that we bought with our own money,” Liu said.
Mr. Li (pseudonym), a retiree from Guangzhou, accused the local governments of being unreasonable and violating Chinese laws.
“The governments said we have money [personal medical insurance] is a waste as it is only deposited in the bank. They said they don’t have to pay us that much since we haven’t used up our deposits, which means we don’t need that much,” Li said angrily.
“Do they also want to take away people’s personal savings in the bank? Can they say they won’t pay your salaries because you have deposits in the bank?”
Mounting of shortages
Mr. Lin believes that the payments have been reduced because local governments are suffering from financial shortfalls due to the past three years of zero-Covid policies.
“Many businesses have gone bankrupt in the last three years due to the restrictions. How can the government have money if the businesses collapse?” Lin said.
In addition to the economic setbacks, governments have spent significant amounts on COVID prevention and control measures. Guangdong province has reportedly spent a total of 146.8 billion yuan ($21.65 billion) to maintain its epidemic control measures, such as mass PCR testing and forced vaccination, over the past three years.
“That said, they can’t just loot money from our vulnerable people,” Lin said, adding that retirees rely on the insurance payments to pay for their daily medical expenses.
“In the event of a serious illness, who will pay for us? Even with 484 yuan paid to us in the past, we could only save 58,080 yuan ($12,061) in ten years on the condition that we did not spend a cent in the period,” Lin said, “Now with 160 yuan, we can’t even afford N95 face masks.”
The Epoch Times’ multiple calls to the administrative offices of the municipal Health Care Security Bureau and Human Resources and Social Security Bureau on January 24 were not answered.
But a man who answered a call to the Bureau of Human Resources and Social Security’s hotline, who declined to give his name, confirmed that 320 yuan had been cut from the monthly insurance payments to local retirees and that the money belong to personal accounts. However, he said the action was not illegal.
“It’s not a deduction; it’s just to reduce the monthly payment to personal accounts, which was approved by state documents,” he said.
When asked if it was legal to withdraw from the personal accounts without getting the approval of the owners, the man replied: “If retirees have complaints, I can write them down and send them to the relevant [government] departments to take care of.”
Zhao Fenghua and Hong Ning contributed to this report.