Budget 2014: Lifelong health-care subsidies for pioneers

Whether you are rich or poor, as long as you are in the pioneer generation, you will enjoy benefits in the form of health-care subsidies for the rest of your life.

That is because the goal is to honour the whole generation, Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said yesterday as he announced a $9 billion package to lower their health-care costs.

"As the Prime Minister has stated, we are honouring this unique generation of Singaporeans who built up the country, although no package can fully reflect the contributions that our pioneers have made," Mr Tharman, who is also Finance Minister, said in his Budget speech. Older pioneers will get more help than younger ones.

That is because more of the very old are likely to be burdened by medical costs, as the Medisave scheme to help workers save for health-care needs came about only in 1984.

The Pioneer Generation is defined as Singaporeans aged 65 and above this year, and who became citizens before 1987 if they were not born here.

Acknowledging that the definition was "very precise", Mr Tharman said an appeals panel will be set up to assess the eligibility of those who marginally miss out.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong first mentioned in his National Day Rally speech last year the Government's plan to come up with a package to honour members of this generation for helping to lay the foundations of modern Singapore.

On last Friday, Mr Tharman gave details of the three key components of the package: subsidies for outpatient care, Medisave top-ups, and MediShield Life subsidies. The benefits will start as early as August this year.

For outpatient care, pioneers will enjoy subsidies of 75 per cent to 85 per cent at specialist outpatient clinics (SOCs).

That will be of help to those with chronic conditions like diabetes or high blood pressure.

All pioneers will also be put on the Community Health Assist Scheme (Chas), which gives them subsidies for treatment at general practitioners.

Those already on Chas, meaning they are low- or middle-income, will get additional subsidies, similar to those for SOCs and polyclinics.

The new enhanced outpatient treatment subsidies for pioneers will be built on top of current subsidies, which are tiered according to income.

There is also a new disability assistance scheme for pioneers, or their nominated caregivers.

It is for those with moderate to severe disabilities and they will receive $1,200 in cash each year for life. To qualify, pioneers must need help with at least three out of six activities of daily living, such as washing, dressing or feeding themselves.

As for Medisave top-ups, pioneers will get annual top-ups of between $200 and $800 depending on their age.

They and other seniors will also be able to use their Medisave funds more flexibly.

The final big piece of the package are MediShield Life subsidies, which will help pioneers pay for the new national medical insurance to be implemented next year.

Many of the Pioneer Generation currently do not have MediShield, especially the older ones, noted Mr Tharman.

With this package, pioneers will have 40 per cent to 60 per cent of their MediShield Life premiums subsidised, depending again on their age.

That means someone who is 65 today and lives to age 85, will only need to pay half of the total premiums over a lifetime.

While the new level of premiums will likely go up and is still under review, Mr Tharman said the Government's intention is clear.

"For Pioneer Generation members aged 80 and above in 2014, we intend to fully cover their premiums through a combination of premium subsidies and Medisave top-ups," he said.

And a pioneer who is 70 this year will only need to pay about half of the current premiums for the rest of his life, if he is already on MediShield, he added.

As for those not on MediShield, they will still pay less in premiums under the new insurance scheme after the top-ups and subsidies.

Experts said the package of benefits was more generous than they had expected, and were glad that income levels will not matter.

Dr Lam Pin Min, MP and chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Health, said: "We need to be cognisant that this package serves to honour our pioneer generation and is not a financial assistance scheme."

Dr Kang Soon-Hock, head of the Social Science Core at SIM University, said: "It shows the Government's appreciation and recognition of the contributions and sacrifices made by the pioneer generation at a crucial stage of Singapore's development."

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