New disability cover lauded but payout not enough, say some

Graphic designer Benson Tiew, 38, said the initial cash payout of $600 a month may be enough for now as he is still working, but would not be sufficient for his living expenses when he stops working and has to live on his own with a maid.
Graphic designer Benson Tiew, 38, said the initial cash payout of $600 a month may be enough for now as he is still working, but would not be sufficient for his living expenses when he stops working and has to live on his own with a maid.ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID

They praise inclusivity of CareShield Life but say $600 a month will barely cover expenses

The new long-term care insurance that replaces the ElderShield scheme in 2020 for younger cohorts with one that has more support for those with disabilities was broadly welcomed, even as some called for higher payouts.

Singaporeans and permanent residents set to be affected by the change generally praised the inclusivity of CareShield Life, but felt the initial cash payout of $600 a month would barely cover their expenses.

"It is enough for now because I am still working," said graphic designer Benson Tiew, 38, who needs a wheelchair to get around after a traffic accident in 2002 left him paralysed from the waist down.

"But it won't be enough for my living expenses when I stop working and have to live on my own with a domestic helper."

His 66-year-old mother is the main caregiver to him and his father, 69, who suffered a stroke 13 years ago. Mr Tiew, a PR who did not have any disability insurance before his accident, thinks a payout of at least $1,000 would be adequate.

His three younger brothers help pay the family's expenses, while Mr Tiew spends only $200 to $400 of his $1,500 monthly salary, but that amount can double with wheelchair maintenance.

Caregiver Suresh Vanaz, 39, agrees that the payouts need to be higher. His brother Gunaseelan Purushothaman, 34, has cerebral palsy and racks up $4,000 worth of hospitalisation, medication, transport and other living costs a month.

"Financially, it is a good help, but it is still a very small amount," said Mr Suresh, who has been taking care of his brother with a maid for the last 12 years since their mother died. He does acting and hosting part-time because his caregiving duties prevent him from holding down a full-time job.

Mr Suresh thinks that the monthly payouts from CareShield Life need to be at least $2,000, given his brother's situation. "Whatever I save goes to him, and he is not able to be covered by any insurance," he said of his brother, who is in the hospital after a seizure last week.

Another point of concern is the ability of less severely disabled people who do not qualify for the payouts to afford the yearly premiums.

"We are happy that the scheme is becoming more inclusive because it is very hard for people with disabilities to get insurance," said Dr Marissa Lee Medjeral-Mills, executive director of the Disabled People's Association. "But given their low employment rate, I hope there can be means-tested subsidies for those who are already disabled and may have more disabilities later in life."

She added that the payout needs to be higher than $600, but more research needs to be done to find out the average monthly living expenses for people with disabilities to determine an accurate amount.

Singaporeans without disabilities acknowledge the prudence of joining CareShield Life at a younger age, but some would like to have a say in opting out as well as a limit to how high premiums can go.

Ms Guo Li Quan, 30, said she would stay on CareShield Life even if it was not compulsory as she feels it is a cheaper alternative to private insurance plans.

"I would like to be assured of a certain cap on the premiums," said the senior human resources executive. "If there is any need to put in more money, then it would be encouraging to see the Government come up with that, with everyone chipping in."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 28, 2018, with the headline 'New disability cover lauded but payout not enough, say some'. Print Edition | Subscribe