Keep procedures for granting financial assistance simple, flexible

If Singapore wants to be a society where no one is left behind, requirements for financial assistance in healthcare should be less onerous, and our attitudes less sceptical and judgmental (Plug loopholes in financial assistance schemes, by Mrs Ng Kim Yong; May 4).

The possession of separate bank accounts with disparate balances does not, in itself, suggest malicious intent. Most individuals do distinguish between long-term savings and usable cash.

Even if applicants are indeed lying, we should consider their motives.

The prohibitive cost of certain medical procedures and financial difficulties not reflected in a simple bank statement, might compel them to seek state assistance by hook or by crook.

There may also be the popular misconception that the bar to qualify for financial aid is difficult to meet, prompting applicants to exaggerate their own predicament so as to guarantee approval.

Most importantly, we should not let the impropriety of a few black sheep taint our society's entire approach to the issue of financial aid.

A cursory study of international statistics suggests that so-called "welfare queens" who abuse state assistance schemes for healthcare and unemployment benefits, make up a minority of all claimants.

Conversely, there are around 460,000 low-wage workers earning below $2,000 per month and who are covered by the Workfare Income Supplement scheme.

This segment of society, representing 30 per cent of Singapore's total labour force, is the most likely to seek relief for medical fees.

Many of my elderly acquaintances have compared the current evaluation process to an interrogation - overly invasive, demeaning, and exhausting for those who are already in ill health. Tightening screening procedures would only be counterproductive in this respect.

Therefore, the Ministry of Health needs to simplify its approach of dispensing healthcare to the needy, rather than introduce additional restrictions.

Waiting until individuals "really need support" could be too late for some.

Paul Chan Poh Hoi

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 17, 2017, with the headline 'Keep procedures for granting financial assistance simple, flexible'. Subscribe