Future cohorts might expect even more

SINGAPORE - The new Pioneer Generation Package has set sales and marketing director V. Balu, 47, thinking about how he will pay for health care when he retires.

Too young to qualify for the package, he worries that with society evolving, he and others in his age cohort may not be able to depend on their children for support, as many of today's elderly people do.

The father of two teenage sons, who is married to a nurse, supports his parents who will benefit from the package as they are in their 70s and suffer from chronic illnesses.

As for his own silver years, he says: "I've got two sons and I'm not sure they will have the same generational mindset.

They will be more self-centred and we have to be ready for it. We cannot be dependent on our children even though we nurture good Asian values."

The $8 billion Pioneer Generation Package is the biggest spending item in this year's Budget and was unveiled on Friday last week.

It provides those aged 65 this year and older and who became citizens before 1987, grants and subsidies to help pay for health care.

Mr Balu agrees that it could well breed higher expectations from younger cohorts, who might expect more of the same for themselves in future.

"(When) you set a precedent, people's expectations grow and they might even want more," he says.

Grassroots leader Zin Handair, 55, argues that cohorts like his have also contributed to the country in their own way, and should be rewarded in their later years.

"The pioneers contributed to building the country at the start, but we carried it on," he says.

"We also contributed our part to building a first-class Singapore."

Still, Mr Zin might be heartened that those aged 55 and above this year will receive Medisave top-ups of between $100 and $200 yearly over the next five years.

Younger Singaporeans in their 20s and 30s and for whom retirement and health-care woes seem a remote prospect, tend to be far less interested in the Pioneer Generation Package.

Graduate student Gloria Ong, 26, has no family members who will benefit but says "it's a nice way to show how thankful we are for the people who made us what we are today".

Magazine writer Kenneth Wee, 27, welcomes the package as it is "about time" the country's pioneers were honoured, but adds: "I haven't given the Budget much consideration because it doesn't affect me or my family, but I feel the Government is doing the right thing."

As for the pioneers themselves, what some like Mr Kamaldin welcome is how the package helps them to remain independent and self-supporting.

At age 83, he still works as an assistant in a provision shop.

His two sons live with his wife overseas and Mr Kamaldin, who lives in a two-room rental flat,does not depend on them for financial support.

"(This package) helps me stand on my feet, so if you have your own health problems you don't need to disturb your children and ask them to pay for this or for that," he says.

Agreeing, retired civil servant Koh Yong Song, 71, welcomes the package but hopes a "one-off cash top-up" can help him pay for out-of-pocket expenses.

A significant challenge for some is understanding what the package means for them.

Part-time hawker Chua Yoon Hong, 65, is aware of the package, but as with other pioneers interviewed, is unclear about the specifics.

"It would be nice if the MP or some people come to our homes to explain, especially for those of us who are not so educated," she says.

For pensioners like former teacher Lee Ngan Peng, 71, the advent of MediShield Life means she will have to pay for health insurance premiums, which she has not done to date.

She does not have MediShield currently as her health-care costs are paid for by the Government, except for a percentage of ward charges if she is hospitalised.

For individuals like Madam Lee, the package holds a symbolic meaning rather than a tangible one.

"I'm quite glad the Government came up with the idea to honour the work (pioneers) have done," she says.

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