Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Govt will shoulder bigger share of health bills

Current review will guarantee that but co-payment will remain an integral part
By Rachel Chang, The Straits Times, 15 Apr 2013

THERE are two guaranteed outcomes in the ongoing review of the health-care financing framework, said Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Grace Fu yesterday.

First, the Government will shoulder a larger proportion of health-care bills in the future. But, making individuals pay a portion so they take responsibility for their own health will remain an integral part of the funding system.

Singapore will not move towards a universal health-care system like in Europe or Australia, she said, while facing a barrage of health-care concerns in a dialogue with Jalan Kayu residents.

Such a system encourages over-consumption of health care and leaves the bill for the next generation, and Australia provided a stark warning of this.

There, an optician will ask a customer how many pairs of new glasses they want, she said.

"What is happening in other countries allows us to look at the problems if we move in that direction," she elaborated to reporters after the 90-minute dialogue, referring to the unsustainable debt that European governments have chalked up.

"While we look at increasing the Government's share, we must also be mindful that we do not fall into the same hole.

"Co-payment is an integral part of the overall funding system (in Singapore)."

Earlier, one resident had said that her subsidised bill for a procedure at a public hospital here was twice what her friend had paid at a private hospital in another country.

Another lamented that to tap Medifund - government aid for the low-income - one must have first "wiped out" the Medisave accounts of family members.

A third complained that his friend had to wait over a day for admission to hospital.

Ms Fu said that such delays would not occur if someone's condition is critical, and asked those with non-critical conditions to be patient.

She said that the bed shortage problem would be alleviated once the 10 new hospitals planned by 2030 open.

That health care is more expensive here compared to other countries in the region is inevitable, she said, adding that international drug companies charge more for their products in Singapore compared to developing countries.

The 90-minute dialogue, attended by about 350 residents, came at the tail-end of Ms Fu's walkabout in Ang Mo Kio GRC, part of a series of ministerial community visits.

One resident also charged that the Government was running Singapore like a company, a point Ms Fu, an MP for Yuhua, swiftly refuted.

"We are not capitalist at all," she said, pointing especially to the large subsidies the Government gives to Singaporeans so that they can own their homes.

But there are some aspirations that the Government cannot fully meet, she said, like car ownership or lower-density living. But it can mitigate these by, for instance, improving the public transport system, she added.

Referring to the recent Population White Paper projection of a 6.9 million population in 2030, Ms Fu pointed out that this is a 30 per cent increase from the current figure.

But, the rail network will expand by 56 per cent in the same period.

"This gives you a sense of the kind of planning that's being put in place," she said.

During her visit, which was hosted by Ang Mo Kio GRC MP Intan Azura Mokhtar, Ms Fu also presided over the launch of new initiative "Progress".

It aims to help Ang Mo Kio and Sengkang West residents who are in arrears on their service and conservancy charges.

Grace Fu addresses resident’s concerns about changes in Govt policies
By Tan Weizhen, TODAY, 15 Apr 2013

Concerned about the pace of change in Government policies in recent years, a Jalan Kayu resident at yesterday’s dialogue with Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Grace Fu remarked that the country’s leadership “is getting very scary ... (and) how we select leaders today is something that scares me”.

The middle-aged resident cited the recent car loan curbs, as well as changes in education policies and how the authorities manage the population numbers.

In response, Ms Fu said: “Do we come across as flip-flopping? The world is changing ... and Singapore is changing its position relative to rest of world.”

She reiterated that changes are needed as Singapore progresses and faces challenges that come with its development.

Describing how, 50 years ago, Singapore was a “nobody”, Ms Fu said the Republic has now gone up the value chain. “Every time we move up, we are facing a different issue altogether, our competition is getting tougher,” she said. The Singapore population has also become more educated and have different aspirations, which required adjustments in policies.

She said: “The workforce that is going to come on stream in 2020 will be very different from the workforce retiring then. They will be better educated, have different aspirations.”

One thing that would not change, however, is Singapore’s size, Ms Fu noted. “Although we are enlarging it, reclaiming land ... there’s a limit. So certain assumptions like transportation, high-density living, will probably stand the test of time.”

This also means that certain aspirations, such as owning cars, cannot be met for every young Singaporean, she said.

Addressing the resident, Ms Fu added: “We hope we can convince you that the Government has the leadership, has the vision not just to look at problems today ... but to look ahead.”

Striking a new balance on flat prices
By Rachel Chang, The Straits Times, 15 Apr 2013

THE Government is trying to find a new balance between keeping new flats affordable yet fulfilling Singaporeans' desires for their home values to rise, said Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Grace Fu yesterday.

For decades, new flat prices were pegged to resale ones, so that home owners' asset values would grow, she said.

"If we were selling Build-To-Order flats at a much lower price than resale flats, you would find people turning away from resale and then flat prices would be less able to rise," she explained to Jalan Kayu residents at a dialogue.

But this peg, which was removed in 2011, also made the price of new flats spiral out of young Singaporeans' reach as prices in the resale market spiked 80 per cent in the last six years.

The opposing concerns within a family exemplified the Government's challenge, Ms Fu pointed out. "Sometimes we hear parents say, flats should be cheaper so my son or daughter can buy. But don't depress (prices) so much because I want my house (value) to stay high."

She was responding to a resident who wondered if resale flat prices would depreciate, after National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan's comment last week that the HDB should be a price-setter in public housing.

Residents also aired municipal concerns, such as noise and environmental pollution in Serangoon North due to the Keppel Digihub and a construction site under another company.

While Keppel Digihub will install shutters to address the issue of soot, Ang Mo Kio GRC MP Intan Azura Mokhtar said grassroots leaders are finding it harder to get the construction firm to stop piling works after 10pm as it is behind schedule.

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