Understanding the Pioneer Generation Package

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The Pioneer Generation Package is the highlight of this year's Budget. Everyone born on or before 31 Dec 1949 and who also became Singapore citizens before 1987 will enjoy lifelong benefits under the Pioneer Generation Package:

• 40% - 60% MediShield Life premium subsidies;
• 50% discount at Specialist Outpatient Clinics and polyclinics
• Annual Medisave top-ups of $200 to $800
• Automatic qualification for Enhanced Community Health Assist Scheme card which can be used at private clinics

Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam allocated S$8 billion to set up the Pioneer Generation Fund, which with cumulative interest, will provide more than $9 billion to safeguard the resources required for the lifelong welfare of the pioneer generation. By doing so, it will also not burden future Budgets and younger generations.

Last weekend, I held my monthly Kopitalk and a discussion with grassroots leaders about the Budget. I sensed that most people are aware of and grateful for the government's sincere gesture for our pioneers.

Besides the pioneer generation, their children and grandchildren will also benefit, albeit indirectly, because the burden of their elders' medical expenses will be reduced for them. Medical cost is one of the main concerns of older people. After all, as most people age, our bodies will weaken and succumb to illnesses.

During the difficult years when Singapore became independent with inadequate resources, our pioneer generation worked hard to contribute to their families and communities. Hence, the government's purpose for introducing the Pioneer Generation Package is to express our gratitude to this generation of Singaporeans. It is not a compensation for the shortfall in healthcare benefits.

All along, Singaporeans enjoy subsidies at government hospitals and polyclinics for consultations, medication and treatments. Beyond the subsidies, most can be covered by Medisave and MediShield.

Recently, one of my grassroots leaders aged over 70 has to be hospitalised for 18 days for accumulation of fluids in his lungs and he is currently recuperating at home. When I visited him, he told me that all his hospitalisation expenses have been taken care of by Medisave and MediShield and he did not have to pay any cash.

Even if one's Medisave is insufficient or one is not covered by MediShield, when faced with difficulties for medical expenses, one can apply to Medifund, which was set up by the government. All government hospitals and polyclinics have full-time medical social workers to assist with the applications. The Health Minister has mentioned in Parliament that over 90 per cent of the applicants have been successful in obtaining assistance from Medifund.

There is a saying that one can die but cannot fall ill. I have also met some residents at my Meet-the-People sessions who sold their flats or incur huge debts to pay medical bills. They have not heard about Medifund and not realising that they can apply for assistance, sourced for money on their own. My heart aches every time I hear about such cases. It is hard enough when one or a family member falls ill without the additional worries over medical fees.

Hence, I suggested in Parliament last month that the Ministry of Health set up notices in all four official languages at all reception and payment counters of government hospitals and polyclinics so that members of the public will know the existence of Medifund.

Similarly, now that the Government has set up the Pioneer Generation Package, no matter how good it is, if people do not understand how they can benefit from it, it is useless.

Although the pioneer generation will automatically be entitled to privileges when they see the doctor, but because the subsidies and discounts are not physically visible, there will be senior citizens who do not know about or understand the benefits. They will still worry about their own medical expenses and because of fear that they cannot afford to pay their own medical bills or because they would rather not burden their children and grandchildren, they will endure their pain in silence instead of going to the doctor.

Members of the pioneer generation are at least 65 years of age and quite a number of them are uneducated, illiterate in English and Chinese and ignorant of current affairs. Local Chinese newspaper Lianhe Wanbao recently launched a new series of community outreach activities. The first activity, jointly organised with grassroots organisations, is a talk in Chinese and dialects for elderly residents to understand how the Pioneer Generation Package will benefit them.

At these talks at Yuhua (4pm, 25 Feb, Jurong East 31 Street , Blk 318B multipurpose hall) and Tampines North (10am, 27 Feb, Tampines Street 41 , Tampines North Community Club ), people conversant in Hokkien , Teochew and other dialects will be present to explain the details of the Pioneer Generation Package.

We, the younger generation, should also take the initiative to understand the details of the Pioneer Generation Package in order to explain to our elderly at home, so that they will feel at ease and can spend their twilight years without worries.

Mr Baey Yam Keng is MP for Tampines GRC. The above is a translation of an article first published in the Chinese section of MyPaper on February 25, 2014. The translation was posted on Mr Baey's Facebook page on February 28.

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