Beijing introduces new insurance scheme for elderly in attempt to reduce extortion

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 28 November, 2013, 5:42pm
UPDATED : Monday, 02 December, 2013, 9:29am

The Beijing government is to issue a new accidental insurance scheme for the city’s three million elders, several Beijing newspapers reported on Thursday, in a measure widely viewed as an attempt to discourage injured elders from blackmailing innocent helpers to pay their medical expenses.

The insurance will cover accidental injuries resulting from activities in public spaces. It will compensate medical expenses of up to 200,000 yuan (HK$253,000) and cost just 17 yuan per year. The scheme, which will be launched next month, will also be provided free of charge to the city’s 70,000 poverty-stricken elders who subsist on meagre pensions.

The new measure aimed at easing the financial burdens of the elderly has come at a time when citizens in China have become increasingly wary when coming across injured elders lying on the ground, hesitating over whether to step forward to lend a hand, or just stay put for medical help to arrive.

This mindset of a growing number of the Chinese public has come about after a spate of no less than 20 news reports in recent years of injured elders blaming passers-by who helped them after accidents, alleging them to be the perpetrators and demanding they pay their medical expenses. However, these accusations often turn out to be fraudulent claims by the injured hoping to recoup their medical expenses.

The elderly resort to such behaviour because they are left with no choice. They are uncertain about how much a tumble will cost them
Li Hongbing

For example, in one of the earlier cases reported by media in 2008, a young man in Xian held up an old woman who had fallen on the ground but was soon accused by her of bumping into her and causing a fracture of her pelvis. Eventually he was proved innocent thanks to onlookers’ accounts. “I will be cautious in the future if I encounter similar incidents – I will either call the police, or find eyewitnesses first,” he said in an interview afterward.

In other two separate events, two bus drivers were accused of injuring elderly women and only later were cleared of the charges when surveillance video cameras on the buses proved their innocence.

In a more recent case that won public acclaim for holding the would-be swindler to account, a police bureau in Sichuan charged an elderly woman for extortion and sentenced her to seven days’ detention. She had alleged in June that three children had accidentally run into her in a residential community, knocking her to the ground and subsequently causing her to sustain a fracture on her leg. She then demanded 7,500 yuan from the children’s families for medical expenses.

After an investigation lasting months, the police eventually debunked her account and concluded that the children only went forward to help her after she was injured. “The police will stringently go after any extortion attempts …we hope the general public is not deterred by individual cases and will continue to be motivated to help others,” a spokesman of the police bureau was cited saying.

The public has blasted those who made false claims for hardening the hearts of those who had helped them, urging harsh punishments to be handed out before the trend discouraged any more people from reaching out to help the elderly in need.

“It’s not that the elderly people have become baddies. It’s just that the baddies have become old,” online user summarised the situation, with many agreeing.

Ominously, these cases have contributed to a growing phenomenon, where in a number of heart-stopping scenes bystanders have just looked on unconcerned when injured people need help.

The nation was shocked by the most famous incident in Guangdong in 2011, when a 2-year-old girl who had been struck and run over by a van and was lying seriously injured on the ground was ignored by at least 18 passers-by, and was later run over by another vehicle. She later died in hospital. The tragedy immediately prompted outcries against the “cold-blooded” onlookers and led to widespread soul-searching in Chinese society.

Li Hongbing, deputy chief of the Beijing Civil Affairs Bureau that helped to draw up the insurance scheme, told the Beijing-based Morning Post that the scheme would help to bring down such misconduct.

“[Elderly people resort to such behaviour] because they are left with no choice due to an inadequate self-protection system. They are uncertain about how much a tumble will cost them,” the newspaper cited him saying.

Private insurance companies in China at present offer few accidental insurance options for elders over 65 years of age, and when they do, they usually charge sky-high prices and required extensive physical examinations.

According to Li, the existing insurance scheme sponsored by the Beijing government that covers accidental injures occurring within geriatric facilities paid for an estimated compensation of about 5.4 million yuan a year, covering the medical expenses of 220 cases of bone fractures, 120 cases of smaller injuries and 11 deaths that took place in the past year.