Concern about jobs and health care for the elderly

SINGAPORE - Senior Minister of State Heng Chee How was among 10 MPs on Tuesday who spoke up for the elderly, on issues such as employment and health care.

Mr Heng, who is deputy secretary-general of the National Trades Union Congress, renewed his call for the Government to start tripartite talks on "how soon and how best" to raise the re-employment age.

He wants it extended by another two years to 67.

Now, workers are offered re-employment up to age 65 when they reach the retirement age of 62.

Mr David Ong (Jurong GRC) wants to do away with the mandatory retirement age, and called for the full restoration of employers' Central Provident Fund contribution rates for workers aged 55 and above.

These vary from 6.5 per cent to 10.5 per cent depending on age, compared with 16 per cent for those below 50. The rates for older workers were cut in 1988.

MPs also spoke about health-care costs. Mr Heng said re-employed workers should be able to keep their existing co-payment arrangements instead of being given a new one that requires them to pay more.

Mr Desmond Lee (Jurong GRC) hoped health-care subsidies for older Singaporeans could be raised, on a means-tested basis.

And though the topping-ups of Medifund, Eldercare Fund and the Senior's Mobility and Enabling Fund in the Budget were "right steps forward", Dr Lim Wee Kiak (Nee Soon GRC) suggested even more top-ups as Singapore ages.

On Medisave, MPs urged greater flexibility. Dr Intan Azura Mokhtar (Ang Mo Kio GRC), Ms Ellen Lee (Sembawang GRC) and Dr Fatimah Lateef (Marine Parade GRC) asked if Medisave could be used for preventive care such as medical check-ups and medication for chronic illnesses like diabetes.

Ms Tin Pei Ling (Marine Parade GRC) called for a higher cap on how much Medisave can be used a year, and a lower minimum sum that must be left in the account.

On housing, she wanted the elderly to have more flexibility in paying for studio apartments, which now must be paid upfront in cash. She asked for safeguards to protect elderly singles in rental flats from unreasonable co-tenants.

Mr Gan Thiam Poh (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC) proposed that the withdrawal age of CPF Life annuity be lowered from the current 65.

"This will help them solve some of their immediate living expense problems," he said.

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