Annual income a fairer means-testing mechanism

I agree with Mr Lim Tong Wah that the Government should change the outdated means-testing criteria, such that those who require financial aid the most will be able to receive it ("Relook housing type as means-testing criterion"; April 9).

The current system, which uses the type of housing as the basis for disbursing financial assistance, is unsatisfactory in a few key aspects.

First, the valuation of housing changes significantly over time.

This is most noticeable among members of the pioneer generation, many of whom purchased their flats decades ago at what would now be considered highly favourable prices.

With the general rise in property values over the intervening period, not to mention inflation in general, the value of these fixed assets is no longer a reliable indicator of their owners' actual financial standing.

A second related point is how wealth in terms of assets is distinct from actual disposable income and material living conditions.

This is especially so for individuals who inherited property rather than hard currency.

Third, under the current situation, subsidies are restricted to those who live in HDB flats. This seems predicated on the flawed assumption that HDB dwellers, without exception, require more financial assistance than their counterparts in private housing.

The net result is that many elderly residents in mature housing estates fall foul of means-testing criteria, since the calculated value of their flat has masked their cash-poor standard of living and lack of income or savings.

I have one such friend who resides in a supposedly valuable 1970s-era terraced house.

As a result, he is entitled to almost no subsidies, even though he has very little savings to draw on.

In contrast, some of his wealthier relatives have received 80 per cent reimbursement due to the lower valuation of their houses.

With this in mind, a more accurate indicator of a person's ability to foot medical bills could be annual household income. This would allow us to gauge a given individual's disposable income, or if they are retired, the general financial health of their family.

Reforming the means-testing system is a prerequisite to improving access to healthcare for Singaporeans from all walks of life.

Paul Chan Poh Hoi