Listening out for how policy hits people in the short term

Listening out for how policy hits people in the short term

SINGAPORE - Senior Minister of State for Health and Manpower Amy Khor is in the hot seat over the Pioneer Generation Package, an $8 billion fund to help seniors pay for health care but which many struggle to understand. The 56-year-old co-chair of the PGP task force tells Maryam Mokhtar that various new strategies are in place to help drive the message home. She also addresses another hot issue - whether the ruling People's Action Party has lost touch with sentiment on the ground.

There is often talk that the Government is out of touch with the ground. Why do you think there is this perception?

We have for the most part focused on policies which are in the long-term best interest of Singaporeans, sometimes even if there's short-term pain. Because of this, there could be gaps in policy implementation.

People may feel that we may be overzealous in wanting to implement policies because we know they will give long-term benefits to the people.

How do you shift this perception?

Some of my MP colleagues have said that we need more politics in our policies. That doesn't mean we are then gearing towards populism. But we need to make sure that we also take note of the short-term pain, how to cushion the impact in our policymaking and how to engage and explain. Hence increasingly the policies implemented have been more consultative.

Do you have an example?

Income inequality is more stark now because of globalisation and competition, many factors of which are not within our control. And so we will have to balance values we always talk about - self-reliance, hard work, meritocracy - with targeted help for those who cannot make it on their own to ensure their social mobility. So, a compassionate meritocracy.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has said the Health Ministry is at the forefront of changes in social policies, especially in MediShield Life and the expansion and upgrading of the health-care system. What are the major difficulties you foresee?

There are a few challenges within three main categories. The first - understanding the health-care financing system. We find that a lot of people are quite confused about Medisave, MediShield and integrated insurance plans.

We need to ramp up our efforts and work with insurers, health-care professionals and community leaders to improve awareness and understanding.

The second challenge is long-term health-care affordability, both for Singaporeans and the Government. We are addressing this challenge in several ways.

The Government's share of health-care expenditure will increase. It went up from $4 billion in the financial year 2011 to about $8 billion in the financial year 2014. MediShield Life will better protect Singaporeans against large hospital bills. Premiums will rise but the Government is committed to making sure it's affordable. We will also allow more flexible use of Medisave.

Lastly there is infrastructure and manpower. Particularly, because of our ageing population, health-care needs will go up and we need manpower to run these facilities.

We are trying to attract more fresh school-leavers to join the health-care profession and encouraging back-to-work women, mid-career switches and retirees to come back to work.

But we will still need to supplement it with some foreign manpower especially because there'll be some jobs that Singaporeans will not be interested in.

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