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Pioneer package good but could be better, say MPs

Don’t outsource MediShield Life, offer more perks to pioneers among ideas

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ANDREA ONG on 04 Mar 2014

Singapore Press Holdings Ltd

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ALMOST all 25 MPs who spoke on the Budget yesterday praised the Pioneer Generation Package for tackling the chief worry of the elderly: Health-care costs.


They also welcomed the move to make the package available to all pioneers without means-testing.


Several, like Ms Sylvia Lim (Aljunied GRC) and Nominated MP Laurence Lien, paid tribute to the spirit and values of those in the pioneer generation.


But in welcoming the package, many MPs had a long list of suggestions on how it could be improved. These ranged from having the Government fully administer MediShield Life without outsourcing it to private insurers, to giving pioneers perks like free entry to swimming pools.


The former was proposed by Mr Baey Yam Keng (Tampines GRC), who said premiums for MediShield integrated plans have “increased significantly”, with inconsistent coverage and premiums among the private insurers.


He also suggested a central database integrated with hospitals to organise MediShield coverage for patients.


Ms Lim, meanwhile, noted that some pioneers currently not on MediShield would already have bought their own Medisave-approved private insurance. She asked if they would be able to use the MediShield Life subsidies under the Pioneer Generation Package for their private insurance premiums instead of being compelled to join the new scheme.


Dr Lam Pin Min (Sengkang West), chair of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Health, called for greater integration among the different sectors of care to prevent hospitals from becoming overloaded.


He and Ms Lim also highlighted the plight of many seniors with chronic illnesses who end up paying a lot for medication.


Other MPs like Ms Foo Mee Har (West Coast GRC) and Dr Lim Wee Kiak (Nee Soon GRC) cautioned that even as the Government gives more subsidies, it must ensure these are not cancelled out by medical inflation or overloaded infrastructure.


Non-Constituency MP Gerald Giam said the package should be rolled out quickly, given the pioneers’ old age. For instance, they could be placed on the Community Health Assist Scheme immediately rather than next year.


The MPs also spoke up for vulnerable groups of seniors who need special attention.


Dr Lam and Nominated MP Mary Liew noted that many women in the pioneer generation stayed home to look after the family and had little or no CPF savings. They might not benefit from the increase in CPF contributions or be able to afford even the subsidised MediShield Life premiums.


Still others said seniors could do with help in other areas as well. To encourage them to stay active, they could get free entry to public swimming pools and gyms, and discounted or free entry to national attractions, said Dr Lim.


He and Ms Foo called for a “Pioneer Generation card” to identify these seniors, urging the private sector to join the Government in honouring the pioneers by offering discounts and privileges.


Senior Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office Heng Chee How suggested that the authorities draw up a list of financial help targeted at seniors and group them into healthcare and non-healthcare measures.


The latter category tends to incur spending that is “more recurrent and related to the cost of living”, he said, proposing measures such as the Government paying for their public transport and offering a different form of basic support for older workers on Workfare who cannot find work due to old age.


Three MPs, however, asked for the package’s benefits to be extended to more Singaporeans. Currently, it covers those aged 65 and above this year, and who became citizens before 1987.


Mr Giam cited those who served in the first few batches of national service. He hoped the appeals panel to be set up would “err on the side of generosity as many of those who just missed out have made significant contributions on a par with pioneers”.


QUOTES OF THE DAY


HELPING OLDER WOMEN


Many older women stay home to take care of their children and families and contribute to Singapore in their own ways. Can the Government do more to care for their healthcare needs, instead of overburdening their families?
– Dr Lam Pin Min (Sengkang West)


PRIVATE SECTOR ACTION


I hope that the private sector will also... join the Government in honouring our pioneer generation by offering free services or generous discounts.
– Dr Lim Wee Kiak (Nee Soon GRC)


CHINESE DIALECT HOTLINE


Besides the four official languages, we should also provide the main dialects like Hokkien, Teochew and Cantonese. I have even thought of the number for the dialect hotline: 1800-1351-1351, which sounds like “a lifetime without worry” in Cantonese. – Mr Baey Yam Keng (Tampines GRC), on a Lianhe Zaobao correspondent’s call for a hotline to spread news of the Pioneer Generation Package to the elderly


Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.

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