Government says TR Emeritus report that taxpayers are paying Heng Swee Keat's medical bills is a 'blatant lie'

Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat.
Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat. PHOTO: BERITA HARIAN FILE

SINGAPORE - The government has called out the TR Emeritus (TRE) socio-political website for a "blatant lie" in its online report that Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat's medical expenses are being funded by the taxpayer.

In a statement posted on the Gov.sg Facebook page shortly after midnight on Tuesday (June 7), the government said that TRE "has once again sought to mislead the public".

It said TRE had done so by publishing "a vicious claim that a Cabinet Minister is 'fully entitled to free A-Class healthcare in government and restructured hospitals', giving the impression Minister Heng Swee Keat's medical expenses are being funded by taxpayers".

"This is a blatant lie," the statement said.

Mr Heng, 54, collapsed during a Cabinet meeting on May 12 after suffering a stroke. He was taken to Tan Tock Seng Hospital where doctors successfully closed a ruptured aneurysm that caused bleeding in his brain.

TRE's article, published on Monday (June 6) and billed as a comment from a reader, said the cost to the taxpayer of hospitalisation, medical care, procedures and services to date would be almost $500,000.

It said Mr Heng would have been "surrounded round the clock by Senior Consultant neurologists at the Professor and A/Professor-level, daily checks by other specialists, doctors, advanced practicing nurses, and a rotating team of bodyguards".

"This means that the bill will be at least $15,000 per day which are actually funded by taxpayer's monies. It has been 25 days since being hospitalised as of 6 June 2016," TRE added.

"Just the daily room, board and medical services has already cost taxpayers $375,000. The operation on the first day to stop the brain bleed and the accompanying intensive procedures will be at least another $100,000."

It asked if the average Singaporean would have been able to afford it and then added: "Therefore, no need to give him well wishes."

TRE's article was subsequently updated to include the government's response, while its Facebook post promoting the article was taken down on Tuesday (June 7) morning.

In its statement, the government said that if TRE had bothered to check the facts, it would have known that ministers are on the same medical benefit scheme - the Medisave-cum-Subsidised Outpatient (MSO) scheme - as most civil servants.

A vicious lie is not an 'alternative angle'.

The Government, noting TR Emeritus' Editor's Note that said the contributor's "letter" was reproduced to show an alternative angle.

Officers on this scheme get a 2 per cent CPF contribution to their Medisave accounts capped at $2,380 per year on top of their normal statutory Medisave contributions, the statement said.

This can then be used to buy Medishield Life or other portable Medisave-approved insurance plan to cover their inpatient needs.

 

"Ministers receive no extra benefits for themselves or their spouses/children. All ministers and other political office-holders pay tax."

The statement said that Mr Heng's hospitalisation "is most certainly not borne by taxpayers' monies".

The TRE article had also contained an Editor's Note, which said that the website's editor wished Mr Heng well.

But the note said that the editor decided to reproduce the contributor's "letter" anyway to "show an alternative angle to his situation and the underlying socio-political issues".

The government noted this in its statement , but said: "A vicious lie is not an 'alternative angle'."

"Choosing to run an article that contained glaring misinformation that could have been easily searched and verified online is irresponsible."

In the most recent update on Mr Heng's condition, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in a Facebook post on May 30 that Mr Heng was recovering well and was "fully lucid, communicative, and cheerful".