PAP lobby group wants more government help for seniors' healthcare needs

The PAP Seniors group wants the Government to increase public spending in six areas to ensure healthcare stays affordable for older Singaporeans, especially members of the pioneer generation.

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The PAP Seniors Group held its inaugural dialogue session last week on the theme of "Our Seniors, Our Asset", attended by more than 100 participants who shared their views on what should be done to support seniors in ageing gracefully and leading meaningful lives.

In its recommendation paper released today, the group said: "We need to give our seniors the assurance that they will be able to afford healthcare services that they need, as they age, and that cost increases will be manageable. We need to remove their anxiety over their health care bills as they grow even older."

Read the group's six recommendations here:

a. Medishield Life. Although many seniors welcome the move to provide better and more extensive coverage for them under the new Medishield Life, they are very worried about whether they can afford the premiums. To address their concerns, we urge the government to provide extra help to our elderly who have lower Medisave balances. In our view, this is a most meaningful way for the government to recognise our pioneers by helping them pay a significant part of their Medishield Life premiums.

Without such help, we fear that many seniors may not really benefit from Medishield Life if they or their families cannot afford to pay for the premiums (based on existing premiums for Medishield for those above 80 years of age). For Medishield Life to really benefit them, the Government help should also be recurrent and not one off. Further, the amount of subsidies should be reviewed as and when the Medishield Life premiums increase in future, so that Medishield Life will be kept affordable not only at the point of time when it is introduced but also in future years.

b. We welcome the government's decision to cover more of the big hospital bills. On this, we urge the government to increase the benefit levels to cover more of the subsidised bills, especially the claims limits. Currently, these claims limits are sufficient for the majority of the subsidised bills but as medical costs have increased, more bills are exceeding the claim limits, leaving a larger proportion of the bill to be paid by the patients.

As most seniors have no income, they have to depend on their savings or family members to pay for this. Under the new Medishield Life, we urge the government to increase the level of benefits to better cover the large subsidised bills, especially for the Pioneer Generation and later seniors who are not of this generation. This will remove the worry that many patients feel when undergoing needed but costly treatments.

c. We understand the government's rationale for requiring patients to pay the deductibles and co-payments when they are hospitalised, to prevent over consumption and ensure more responsible use of medical services.

However, seniors are concerned over the deductibles as smaller hospital bills, which is the case for a large number of admissions, are not covered by Medishield. We urge the government to provide more Medisave top-ups to the Pioneer Generation, to help them pay for the deductibles.

d. More help for Specialist Outpatient Treatments and Non-subsidised medicines. Beyond Medishield premiums, our seniors have also expressed their concern over higher cost services, such as, specialist care or long-term care which can be very costly for our seniors suffering from chronic illnesses or who are disabled because of old age.

We urge the government to recognise our pioneers by providing more help to them for specialist outpatient treatments and expensive non-subsidised medicines. This will take a huge load off the minds of our seniors who are not hospitalised but nevertheless find the cost of specialist outpatient treatments and non subsidised medicines beyond their means. It would also avoid the current problem where in order to benefit from the government subsidies, our seniors admit themselves into hospitals thus exacerbating the current hospital bed crunch in the public healthcare sector.

e. Medisave. We note that the Medisave scheme has been made more accessible with higher withdrawal limits and coverage of more outpatient treatments. For seniors, however, because of the more frequent need for medical treatment due to recurrent chronic ailments, the current withdrawal limit is not sufficient for them.

We urge the government to consider a tiered withdrawal scheme where older Singaporeans, depending on their age, are allowed to withdraw more compared to younger Singaporeans for outpatient needs. This will help our seniors with sufficient Medisave balances as they will not have to pay cash when they visit the outpatient clinics, which is a drain on them.

We further request the government to consider allowing Medisave to be used for the purchase of non standard medicines prescribed by doctors from the public hospitals, as these are not subsidised although the medical treatment by the specialist is subsidised.

f. Long Term Care/Home Based Care. Many seniors have also expressed their concern over the cost of long term care which can be a drain on their resources as well as that of their children's. As more of them suffer from stroke or other old age incapacities, they need more help to pay for the cost of long term care, such as nursing homes.

We urge the government to cover more of the costs of long term care for our seniors. Also, in line with the government's policy of encouraging ageing in the community, we urge the government to increase the subsidy for home based care so that more families can take care of their frail elderly at home instead of sending them to the hospital or to a home to take advantage of the subsidies.

We also urge the government to allow Medisave to be used for home-based care so as to minimise the need for our seniors or their families to pay from their pockets, yet another deterrent for them to care for a frail senior at home.