Health-care help for older S'poreans will boost family ties

THE measures to aid older Singaporeans with health-care costs are not just about providing monetary assistance but also strengthening family ties.

That was the view of both MP Lily Neo and Tsao Foundation chairman Mary Ann Tsao at The Straits Times Budget Roundtable discussion.

They noted that the nature of the benefits in last Friday's Budget will help both young and old, as it means elderly Singaporeans can have a greater degree of independence while reducing their financial reliance on their children.

That encompasses the key message from the Government: That part of the burden of health costs will be borne by the state and community and not just individual households.

A Budget highlight was the Pioneer Generation Package, which consists of lifelong health-care benefits for some 450,000 pioneers.

It includes subsidies for outpatient care, Medisave top-ups and MediShield Life subsidies, all to be paid for from an $8 billion fund set aside in the Budget.

Both Dr Tsao and Dr Neo agreed health-care costs were a key concern for the elderly, and said the pioneer package would help ease worries the older generation may have about being a burden to their children.

Dr Tsao said: "When you take that away, the older person is in control of their own health care without feeling that they're burdening their children. The children also feel that they don't have to be as burdened. This shifts their relationship to a more positive way."

Dr Neo added: "With this in place... they would have a better relationship and they can also live happily with their family members."

They also praised the Budget for including help not only with insurance premiums but also with specialist outpatient costs, and for extending this aid to lower- and middle-income Singaporeans.

This could make people "more willing to go to see the doctors early" and avoid having their health problems escalate down the road, said Dr Neo.

Health-care consultant Jeremy Lim said that while the various measures will be "extremely popular" politically, the Government has to do more to dampen the rising cost of health care.

"It's really not enough to say that we're putting in X million or X billion dollars if the rate of medical inflation just continues to rise," he added.

Mr Lim said a lot of these subsidies are essentially packaged as an overall percentage, and if the absolute dollar value for a hospital and clinic consultation goes up, then it "really dampens the effective benefit".