SINGAPORE - People who are severely disabled will be allowed to dip into their Medisave accounts and withdraw cash from 2020 - provided they or their spouse have at least $5,000 in their accounts.
This is the first time members will be allowed to withdraw cash from Medisave since it was set up in 1984 as part of Central Provident Fund contributions to help defray hospital bills.
The bigger the sum in their accounts, the more the members will be able to withdraw.
Those with $5,000 in their Medisave accounts - a floor that covers three in four people aged 65 years and older - will be able to take out $50 a month.
On the other hand, those with $20,000 or more in their Medisave accounts will be allowed to withdraw $200 a month. This covers about half the people aged 65 or older, who are more likely to suffer from severe disabilities.
Separately, a fund is being set up to provide more help to needy disabled people.
Explaining the rationale to allow cash withdrawals from Medisave, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said: "When a Singaporean is facing severe disability and, at the same time, facing financial difficulties, I feel that we can afford to be more flexible."
He said this change will not result in higher Medisave contributions. Those deemed severely disabled will be able to dip into their accounts from the age of 30.
Potentially half the population would be able to draw on this in their lifetime.
Said Dr Chia Shi Lu, head of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Health: "I am glad that these Medisave monies will be disbursed in cash for better flexibility for patients and their families."
Mr Gan also touched on other moves to defray the cost of long-term care.
A new safety net called ElderFund will provide needy disabled people up to $250 a month from 2020.
The same year, a long-term disability insurance called CareShield Life will kick in and be made compulsory for people aged 40 years and younger. It will pay those who are severely disabled at least $600 a month for life.
Another two million people, aged 41 years and older when CareShield Life is launched in 2020, will be encouraged to join the scheme from 2021 even though it is optional for them.
These Singaporeans will be offered a $500 to $2,500 incentive to offset their premiums over 10 years.
If they join the scheme within two years, those with chronic ailments and mild or moderate disabilities will be allowed into the fold despite their health conditions. There will be stricter underwriting for those who join later.
Asked if this is fair to healthy people joining the scheme, since it could potentially push up premiums, Mr Gan said "the Government will do its part", with details to be announced later.
People in two-thirds of households can get 20 per cent to 30 per cent premium subsidies. Those who cannot pay their premiums after some years can get additional support.
People aged 42 to 51 years in 2021 who are on ElderShield400 will be automatically enrolled in CareShield Life. They have until December 2023 to opt out with no penalty.
ElderShield400, offered by three insurance companies, provides $400 a month for up to six years for people who are severely disabled.
Those on the scheme who seek to upgrade to CareShield Life will need to pay higher premiums for 10 years or up to the age of 67, whichever is longer.
Those who are on the older ElderShield300 or who do not have ElderShield coverage may also join CareShield Life if they pay an additional "catch-up premium" over 10 years to bring them to the level of those on ElderShield400.
Mr Chaly Mah, who chaired the ElderShield Review Committee, said that these new measures "will provide better protection and assurance for all Singaporeans".