Large crowds gathered Jan. 11 in front of a local human resources and social security bureau in Guangzhou, protesting a sudden cut in payments to their personal medical insurance accounts, according to a video of the protest posted online.
It is the latest protest in a series of mass rallies in the city, the commercial hub of southern China and the seat of Guangdong province. Some participants told China’s The Epoch Times that they have been protesting since the payment cuts began in December.
“The government [of Guangzhou] cut our personal medical insurance by two-thirds since last December, from 484 yuan ($71.35) a month to 160 yuan ($23.59) a month,” Mr. Lin, a Guangzhou resident, told The Epoch Times .
He only gave his last name for fear of reprisals from the Chinese regime.
Personal health insurance is a very important financial resource for retirees, who use it to pay for outpatient appointments and some medical treatments, tests, scans and drugs they buy from hospitals or pharmacies, among other medical expenses.
Lin said pensioners also protested outside provincial and municipal government buildings in December.
“We went to the Guangdong Provincial Letters and Visits Bureau and the Guangzhou Municipal Health Security Bureau last month, but the officials did not come out to meet us,” Lin complained about the authorities’ treatment of the pensioners.
Mr. Liu (pseudonym), a retired employee of the Guangzhou Alloy Steel Plant, told China’s The Epoch Times that more than 1,000 retirees participated in a protest outside the Health Security Bureau in Guangzhou on January 11.
“We now go twice every week to the letter and visit offices, demanding that the government return our money,” Liu said.
The Chinese Communist regime used the Letters and Visitation Offices to deal with Chinese petitioners who filed complaints against the regime’s government bodies. Chinese human rights lawyer Wu Shaoping calls these offices a “systematic trap” for petitioners, as it is “just a tactic to drain people’s time and money.”
As seen in online videos of the Jan. 11 protest, police cars lined the street and watched the protesters closely. More police officers were seen sitting in buses parked nearby. The police barricaded the place of the protest with fences. Protesters negotiate with a man outside the government building in one of the online clips. In one video, a pensioner was said to have been beaten by police.
The Epoch Times was unable to verify the authenticity of the videos.
Mr Lin uploaded posts from the protests to Chinese social media platforms, which were soon removed by the regime’s internet censors, according to Lin.
Deductions from payments are illegal: pensioners
Retirees claim that their personal insurance contributions are their private property because they are paid out of their own contributions and those made by their employers before they retire.
Lynn said he has been contributing to his health insurance funds for more than 20 years.
“The money in our personal health insurance accounts is not government funds; it is our own contribution made from our monthly income,” Lin said, “The government has no right to take our money from our personal account, which is illegal.”
According to Lin, Guangzhou residents and their employers were required to pay two percent and eight percent of an employee’s basic monthly salary, respectively, to the city’s public medical insurance. Pensioners received monthly payments of 484 yuan in their personal health insurance before local authorities changed policies to reduce the payments.
The provincial and municipal governments issued new health insurance documents in 2021 and 2022, respectively, but none mentioned the specific amounts to be paid to employees or retirees.
However, the provincial government has re-published a local state newsletter report explaining the changes to health insurance policies. The report mentions that retirees receive 169 yuan (about $35) in their personal medical bills per month under the new rules. He also wrote that the municipal government would “swap” private health insurance funds for social health insurance pooling.
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 seniority pension and medical insurance. “This is private insurance that we purchased with our own money,” Liu said.
Mr. Li (pseudonym), a retiree from Guangzhou, accused local authorities of being unreasonable and violating Chinese law.
“Governments have said that our money [personal medical insurance] is a waste as it is only deposited in the bank. They said they didn’t have to pay us that much because we hadn’t used up our deposits, which meant we didn’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 you wages because you have deposits in the bank?’
Mr Lin believes the payments have been reduced as local governments suffer from financial shortfalls due to the past three years of the zero COVID policy.
“Many businesses have gone bankrupt in the last three years due to the lockdowns. How can the government have money when business is collapsing?” Lin said.
In addition to economic setbacks, governments have spent significant sums 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.
“However, they can’t just steal money from us vulnerable people,” Lin said, adding that retirees rely on insurance payments to pay for their day-to-day medical expenses.
“In case of serious illness, who will pay for us? Even with the 484 yuan we were paid in the past, we could only save 58,080 yuan ($12,061) in ten years, provided we didn’t spend a single cent during the period,” said Lin. “Now with 160 yuan, we can even i can afford N95 face masks.
Repeated calls by the Epoch Times to the administrative offices of the municipal Health Security Bureau and the Bureau of Human Resources and Social Security on Jan. 24 were not returned.
But a person who answered the call to the Human Resources and Social Security Bureau’s hotline, who declined to be named, confirmed that 320 yuan had been cut from the monthly insurance payments of local retirees and that the money belonged to personal accounts. However, he said the action was not illegal.
“This is not a deduction; it is only a reduction of the monthly payment to personal accounts, which is approved by government documents,” he said.
When asked if it was legal to withdraw from personal accounts without the owners’ approval, the man replied: “If pensioners have complaints, I can write them down and report them to the appropriate [government] departments to look after.’
Zhao Fenghua and Hong Ning contributed to this report.