A cancer-stricken single mother has been cut off from medical and social assistance subsidy schemes, after raising $900,000 in donations online.
Ms Tam Chek Ming, 46, is the first publicly known case to have financial aid terminated as a result of being able to raise funds on her own.
This comes at a time when individual appeals online, especially those portrayed under heartrending circumstances, have garnered up to six-figure sums in donations.
While Ms Tam managed to raise substantial funds online, social workers said people caught in financial emergencies should still turn to government aid schemes first, and warned that crowdfunding has its risks for donors and fund-raisers.
Ms Tam learnt in 2015 that she had ovarian cancer. Despite chemotherapy, her cancer progressed from stage one to four.
For the past two years, her medical bills were subsidised by Medifund. Medifund is a social safety net to help poor Singaporeans pay for medical treatment - specifically those unable to pay their bills, even after subsidies, insurance, Medisave and cash payouts.
Ms Tam also made crowdfunding appeals - one last April and another this April - saying she had to fight her cancer to stay alive for a few more years for the sake of her five-year-old son. She went on crowdfunding pages Give.Asia and Generosity, and has raised $771,692 and US$80,047 (S$109,000) on those platforms, respectively.
PROVIDE 'HOLISTIC' CARE
If something happens to Ms Tam later on, and her son is just five years old, who is going to manage the money? Who can help to place the money in a trust and ensure that the son is not left in the lurch?
MR GERARD EE, a veteran in the charity sector, suggesting that crowdfunding platforms should do more.
In May, a Medifund committee from the National University Cancer Institute, where she was receiving treatment, examined her access to Medifund as part of a regular review, and subsidies were stopped last month.
A spokesman for the institute told The Straits Times: "The committee assessed that Ms Tam no longer needed to rely on Medifund assistance for her medical bills based on her current financial resources, and that Medifund amount can be used to help other patients with more immediate needs."
She was previously on ComCare - a national aid scheme for the low-income - for three months from November last year, but did not return to renew her assistance in January.
A second application in May this year was rejected "as she was assessed to have sufficient savings", said a spokesman for the Ministry of Social and Family Development, which oversees the scheme.
Ms Tam declined comment.
In her posts on crowdfunding pages, she said she had sold off all that she could sell in her two-room flat, and also skipped meals so her son could have proper meals.
She also said that the immunotherapy she needed was not covered by Medifund or other subsidy schemes. Generally, a dose is required every 21 days, and costs about $6,000.
The National University Cancer Institute said that due to patient confidentiality, it is unable to reveal what treatments Ms Tam was receiving Medifund subsidies for.
"Your noble gestures have enabled me to finally gain urgent access to critical immunotherapy treatments before it was too late," she wrote in the latest update posted last month on both crowdfunding websites.
Social service experts told ST that the Government made the right move to stop her financial aid, so help can be given to others in greater need. They also pointed out that if her donations are used up and she needs more money again, she can still re-apply for subsidies.
They said crowdfunding may not bode well for the charity sector in the long run.
Said Ms Rachel Lee, a principal social worker at Fei Yue Family Service Centre: "If people meet the criteria for subsidy schemes, they should apply to those first. Crowdfunding is not a guaranteed way of amassing large sums, as different stories appeal to different people."
AMKFSC Community Services chief executive Vincent Ng said the growing trend of crowdfunding has made it challenging for charities. "Everyone is chasing after the same charity dollar. Sometimes, crowdfunding generates so much money, while donation drives that are rigorously planned don't get as much support," Dr Ng said.
Mr Gerard Ee, a veteran in the charity sector, suggested crowdfunding platforms do more to validate the authenticity of appeals and "provide holistic care".
"If something happens to Ms Tam later on, and her son is just five years old, who is going to manage the money? Who can help to place the money in a trust and ensure that the son is not left in the lurch?"