Thousands of retirees in China protest cuts to government health benefits

Thousands of retirees in China have been protesting outside a popular park in Wuhan in response to "recent cuts in government-provided medical insurance for seniors," The New York Times reports.

The protests, the Times writes, are "the latest sign of strain on the finances of China's local governments," which are responsible for covering the cost of things like health care and utilities. China's controversial zero COVID policy "saddled those localities with additional costs, while a downturn in the real estate market eroded a reliable stream of revenue."

The cuts come "as part of a restructuring of the national health insurance system," during which "local governments are reducing the amount of money deposited into the personal accounts," says The Washington Post. The system consists of a collective pool of health funds and a personal account for each individual. But shouldering the costs of COVID-related care left "already cash-strapped local governments searching for ways to reduce costs." And though Beijing announced the benefit adjustments in 2020, "retirees complain that they were not consulted about the changes or given support to adjust to the new system," per the Post.

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Video footage of the incident showed large crowds gathered around Zhongshan Park in Wuhan on Wednesday as the police attempted to push them back by imposing barricades. Footage also surfaced online of a similar demonstration happening on the same day in the coastal city of Dalian. Last month, videos posted online showed a crowd of retirees protesting outside government buildings in Guangzhou's southern city.

In a document posted on its website, the Wuhan government conceded that the reforms would mean less money in citizens' personal insurance accounts. Still, it said out-of-pocket expenses would be lower for some people "because the collective pool would shoulder more of a person's health care costs for routine hospital visits," per the Times.

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