Pioneer generation needs special MediShield aid

PAP panel wants govt to help them on MediShield Life

[SINGAPORE] The government should help Singapore's pioneer generation foot a "significant" portion of their premiums once the new MediShield Life - the universal medical insurance scheme that will cover all Singaporeans for life - kicks in next year.

There should also be a tiered scheme to allow Singaporeans to withdraw more from their Medisave accounts to pay for their outpatient needs as they grow older.

These are among the recommendations which the People's Action Party's (PAP) new wing for seniors has asked the government to consider for the upcoming Pioneer Generation Package and MediShield Life initiatives.

The policy paper, submitted to Health Minister Gan Kim Yong and the 11-member MediShield Life Review Committee yesterday, was formulated after gathering the views of more than 100 people at the PAP Seniors Group's inaugural dialogue last week.

Group chairwoman Halimah Yacob told reporters yesterday that there was a "strong consensus" that healthcare should be the "top priority" for the upcoming Pioneer Generation Package.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is due to unveil details of the package during an event to honour Singapore's pioneers at the Istana this Sunday.

"Healthcare costs are recurrent and are a big cause of concern for our seniors," said Madam Halimah, who is also Speaker of Parliament. "We need to give our seniors the assurance that they will be able to afford healthcare services that they need as they age, and that cost increases will be manageable."

She noted that while those aged 65 and above comprised 10 per cent of the total population in 2012, they made up more than 27 per cent of overall hospital admissions.

While many seniors welcome the government's move to have MediShield Life, that will cover everyone for life - even those with pre-existing illnesses - they are worried about the cost of the premiums, which will be higher as a result of the expanded coverage, said Mdm Halimah.

"The cost of MediShield premiums for those above 81 is more than $1,000. Frankly speaking, some say that (these people) find even the current premiums unaffordable. (The government's subsidies for MediShield Life) should be really significant, in my view," she added.

To give the pioneers peace of mind for the rest of their lives, she said the subsidy amount should be reviewed as and when premiums rise in the future to ensure that they remain affordable for the needy.

Whatever the subsidies are, she said the help "should be recurrent and not a one-off" for the pioneer generation to truly benefit.

Her call follows a promise made by Social and Family Development Minister Chan Chun Sing earlier this week that the Pioneer Generation Package would be a "long-term commitment" by the government to take care of the elderly for the rest of their lives.

Mdm Halimah said the duty of taking care of the pioneer generation should not be the sole responsibility of the government alone. The community and the private sector should also play their part in this "whole-of- society" effort.

Member of Parliament David Ong, who is part of the 13-member seniors group, said businesses could give more benefits to their elderly customers such as discounts.

"Under some community programmes, some hawkers give discounts to needy residents. So maybe we could extend that to the seniors as well - that would be a nice gesture," he said.

In the coming months, Mdm Halimah said, the PAP Seniors Group would hold further dialogues to look at other issues of concern faced by the elderly, such as employment, transport and housing.

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