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China's new mutual aid platforms fill hole in health care coverage

But lack of clear rules highlights risks in emerging $760m insurance-like market

Alipay’s Xiang Hu Bao provides members as much as $42,000 to cover medical bills for critical illness including COVID-19 for as little as $4 a year. (Photo by Caixin) 

Online health care mutual aid programs have attracted more than 150 million participants in China in less than two years, but lack of clear regulation of the 5.4 billion yuan ($760 million) medical insurance-like industry may expose participants to operational, financial and legal risks, industry experts say.

The emerging market is dominated by Xiang Hu Bao, an online mutual aid platform with more than 100 million members that was introduced in October 2018 by Ant Financial Services Group's online payment platform Alipay. About a dozen second- and third-tier players, including internet giants Baidu Inc., ride-hailing giant Didi Chuxing Technology Co. and a startup backed by Tencent, have jumped on the bandwagon.

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