Chinese parents often move in with their adult children in later life to help raise grandchildren or because they need care. Those who move to a different province may find themselves with a headache when it comes to claiming State medical insurance.
In many cases, people have no option but to travel back to their hometown to claim a refund.
As China reforms its refund system for medical insurance, thousands of senior citizens have been spared the trouble and can now enjoy convenient “real-time” refunds－meaning that the insurance payment is applied directly to a medical provider’s bill at the time of service, regardless where the person lives.
Chen Shuhua moved to her son’s home in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, after she retired as a police officer in Changsha, Hunan province. It used to be a headache for the 75-year-old to get a refund for medical expenses.
From 2012 to 2016, she was hospitalized five times. It was so complicated to have her medical expenses refunded that her son often had to go back to Changsha to deal with it, she said.
She was hospitalized again in February and fell into a diabetic coma for more than a month. This time, thanks to the cross-provincial real-time refund system, she was able to reduce her medical bill by more than 90,000 yuan ($15,500).
“I’m now spared all of the trouble and don’t have to worry about the refunds anymore,” she said.
More than 40,000 people have been refunded 560 million yuan for medical expenses paid outside their home regions since the reform was launched at the end of last year, Tang Jisong, head of the social insurance management center at the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security, said on Sept 26.
The reform was originally designed to benefit retirees who have settled down in other regions. But now it covers virtually everyone, so long as they follow the required procedures. Almost 40 percent of those who have received refunds are retirees, he said.
The latest national census in 2010 estimated that more than 10.6 million Chinese aged 60 or above live outside their registered home regions.
Huang Huabo, deputy head of the management center, said people can get real-time refund service at most of China’s top-level hospitals.
However, people must register the reasons they are receiving medical services in other regions with the medical insurance authorities at home before they can enjoy real-time refunds.
So far, more than 1.6 million people have registered, according to the ministry.
Yan Qinghui, the ministry’s deputy director of medical insurance, said there are limits because too many easy refunds could lead to overcrowded hospitals in big cities.
“Medical resources are unevenly distributed across the country and most people are in cities, which results in a great need for many to get medical services outside their home regions,” Yan said.