Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Pioneer Generation Package to benefit 450,000

PM Lee outlines health-care package for 450,000 pioneers
Subsidies and top-ups provided for life; package a way to honour them
By Goh Chin Lian, The Straits Times, 10 Feb 2014

PRIME Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday paid tribute to the generation of Singaporeans who worked together to build this nation from its infancy, and announced a special package of health-care subsidies as a gesture of gratitude to those aged 65 and older.

These pioneers would have been at least 16 years old at Singapore's independence in 1965 and many would already have been working to support their families at that age. They would also need to be citizens before 1987 to qualify for the package, which includes enhanced subsidies for outpatient treatment, additional annual Medisave top-ups and help with premiums for the new national insurance scheme, MediShield Life.



About 450,000 people are expected to benefit. More details will be announced in the Budget speech on Feb 21.

Yesterday, though, the focus was more on remembering and thanking this first generation of Singaporeans for their contributions, both big and small.

The special tribute to pioneers, which more than 1,000 of them attended, was also chosen to be the first event to kick off celebrations for Singapore's golden jubilee next year.



In his speech, Mr Lee recalled the pioneers' journey in the early years, and that many of them migrated here from other lands to start a new life.

This special generation took part in the drama of the anti-colonial struggle, the battle against the communists, and the fight against the communalists which led to separation from Malaysia and independence, he said.

"Despite difficult times and the real danger of failure, you persevered, put Singapore first, and worked together to build our nation," he said.

They started Singapore on the path of development, raised successive generations, and "taught us the values and spirit that enabled us to succeed".



In his speech in Malay, Mr Lee paid tribute to the Malays of the pioneer generation who chose to remain here after separation from Malaysia. "Your choice enabled Singapore to grow into a unique multi-racial and multi-religious society. We are grateful for your confidence, loyalty and contributions," he said.

In his speech in Chinese, he recalled how his father, Singapore's founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, and his colleagues toiled for the new nation, and the difficulties they endured.

Elaborating on the package, PM Lee said the benefits will be provided to the pioneers for the rest of their lives, with more given to those who are older.

The target group is the first generation of Singaporeans living here after independence, and who were either citizens at the time or in the early years of the Republic.

They include the first national service enlistees in 1967.

Those who became citizens before 1987 are included for practical reasons: the manual records before that year are incomplete.

Mr Lee assured older Singaporeans who do not meet the criteria that they will continue to be cared for in many other ways. He encouraged all Singaporeans to honour the seniors in their own way, adding that more events will be held for this purpose.

At yesterday's party, guests mingled with President Tony Tan Keng Yam and Mrs Mary Tan, Mr and Mrs Lee, and Cabinet ministers.

Ex-MP Chiam See Tong, 78, said he felt honoured and appreciative that "my work as an opposition member has been appreciated".

Given initial talk that the package's cut-off age could be 70, MP Lim Wee Kiak said the lower cut-off age of 65 was "generous" as "five years is a large group".

As a result, Madam Tong Gim Hua, who turns 65 in October, will now benefit from the new subsidies. She spends $60 every few months on medicine to control her blood pressure and cholesterol level. Her bedridden husband is in a nursing home. She said: "I can use the money saved for my bus ride to see my husband three times a week."












"This is a special package for a special generation. No matter how we design the package, it can never fully reflect the contributions that our pioneers have made to our nation. Nevertheless, I hope you will accept it as a sincere expression of our gratitude, and I hope that it will be of help to you and to your families."






Help for a special generation
- Extra government support to pay MediShield Life insurance premiums. 
- Extra subsidies for treatments at polyclinics, GP and specialist outpatient clinics.
- Additional annual Medisave top-ups.
- Benefits for pioneers aged 65 and older are for life.









Lower MediShield premiums, more help for medical needs
By Goh Chin Lian, The Straits Times, 10 Feb 2014

SENIORS who qualify for the Pioneer Generation Package are set to enjoy the enhanced benefits of MediShield Life, yet pay less in premiums than they do today.

That will be the result of new subsidies in the package, the Finance Ministry said in a press release yesterday. Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam will announce the details in his Budget speech on Feb 21.

Besides more subsidies for MediShield Life, those who qualify for the Pioneer Generation Package will also get help in two other ways.

They will receive more subsidies at polyclinics, specialist outpatient clinics and private GPs, under the Community Health Assist Scheme (CHAS) for lower- and middle-income households.

That will be on top of other significant subsidies for outpatient treatment which all citizens are eligible for.

The pioneer generation will also receive additional annual top-ups to their Medisave accounts. They can use these to pay for their medical needs and MediShield Life premiums.

Announcing the package yesterday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said the Government decided to focus on health care because its affordability is top on the minds of older Singaporeans.

The Medisave top-up recognises that many in the pioneer generation do not have much in their Medisave accounts because the national medical savings scheme was introduced in 1984, years after they had started working.

Their wages and Medisave contributions were also lower then.

But he stressed that the package has a broader impact beyond health care or the pioneer generation. They can save some of what they would have spent on health care, for their other needs. The package will also reduce the financial burden on their children.

The package will apply to living Singapore citizens who meet two criteria:
- They were 16 years old and above in 1965, or born on or before Dec 31, 1949 (65 years old and above by the end of this year);
- They received their citizenship by Dec 31, 1986.
While the package is for those who were citizens when Singapore became independent or in the early years after independence, the Government has complete information on citizenship registration records only from 1987 onwards, the ministry said.

An exercise to fully computerise the records was done at the end of 1986, so dates of registration are missing from manual records on citizens before 1987.

The ministry said that those eligible will be informed in due course. Channels will be set up later on for citizens who wish to check on their eligibility.

Retired engineer Ellappan Parasuraman, 78, said the package will relieve the burden of his and his wife's medical costs borne by his four children.

Agreeing, his daughter Premalatha Pakasuraman, in her 40s, said: "We all have schoolgoing children of our own to look after."

Dr Jeremy Lim, head of health and life sciences practice at consulting firm Oliver Wyman, hailed the package as "a milestone in Singapore's health-care evolution".

But he would prefer the package not to be one-size-fits-all, he said, as different pioneers have different needs. It also has to be flexible to meet health-care needs not covered by Medisave and MediShield, such as community and home care services, he added.

He noted that the enhanced subsidies for outpatient clinics will by default be means tested, as they will be implemented through CHAS.

To qualify for CHAS, the household monthly income for each person must be $1,800 and below. For households with no income, the annual value of their residence must be $21,000 and below.

But chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Health, Dr Lam Pin Min, disagrees with means testing for the pioneer generation. Since the package is to thank and honour them for their effort in nation building, he said all who qualify should be treated equally.






Cut-off age lowered to 65 due to earlier start to working life
By Melissa Lin and Carolyn Khew, The Straits Times, 10 Feb 2014

DURING the time of Singapore's independence in 1965, many who joined the workforce did so at the age of 16.

That is why the cut-off age for the Pioneer Generation Package was lowered to 65, revealed Senior Minister of State for Finance and Transport Josephine Teo.

"I think initially there had been some suggestions that the pioneer generation refers to those who were 21 at the point of independence, which would make them 70 this year," Mrs Teo said.

But the Government received feedback that in that era, people generally started working earlier, she said.

Having a cut-off age of 65 means that the pioneer generation refers to those who were at least 16 at the time of independence.

The Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC MP was speaking on the sidelines of an event that paid tribute to pioneers living in Bishan North.

Some 45 residents aged 70 and above were treated to lunch at a coffee shop and given goodie bags and red packets of $80 each.

Responding to queries as to whether the Government expects any negative reactions from those who might just miss the cut-off age and feel left out, she stressed that there were plans to enhance the existing health-care support for those who did not qualify.

At a separate event, Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing said that while the benefits of the package were generally related to health care, the money it would free up could be used by beneficiaries for other needs.

"For example, what the elderly would otherwise be spending on their health care can now be used for transport or even housing," he said, adding that it would also lighten the financial burden on their children.

Senior Minister of State for Law and Education Indranee Rajah also added that efforts will have to be made to reach out to possible beneficiaries to help them understand what they are getting.

Speaking on the sidelines of the official opening of the upgraded Block 112 Jalan Bukit Merah Market and Food Centre, which Mr Chan also attended, she said: "The concern is that they may not know the details and they don't realise how this could benefit them."





Malays who chose to stay helped nation succeed: PM
Moment of choice in 1965 was significant in making Singapore what it is today
By Neo Chai Chin, TODAY, 10 Feb 2014

The pioneer generation of Malays who chose to remain in Singapore during the separation from Malaysia enabled Singapore to grow into a unique multi-racial and multi-religious society, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

The Separation in 1965 was a moment of choice for the Malay community, between joining Malaysia as part of the majority and remaining in Singapore as a minority, he said.

Many chose to stay and Mr Lee paid tribute to them during his Malay speech at yesterday’s Pioneer Generation event at the Istana, saying that they helped build a modern nation with many opportunities and a high quality of life.

“We are grateful for your confidence, loyalty and contributions,” the Prime Minister said, adding that the community has passed on to its children the values and ethos that will take Singapore forward.

In his Mandarin speech, Mr Lee highlighted that the Pioneer Generation Package’s focus on healthcare would mean people have more resources for other needs, while also helping to reduce the burden on their children.

The package is therefore not just a subsidy, but also a means to help pioneers live better in their old age, Mr Lee said.

One of the guests at yesterday’s event, Mr Chng Bah Bee, 72, said the Package would give seniors assurance. A former port worker, Mr Chng said medication for his high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol cost over S$30 every three months, but that he and his wife, a cancer survivor, exercise daily and are well-covered by insurance bought by their children. “We took care of ourselves, and then the next generation,” he said.

Meanwhile, Mr Lee also said Singapore owes its success to the pioneer generation, noting that the Republic had no natural resources when it became independent and the future was very bleak. But the pioneer generation persevered to ensure Singapore survived and grew, and their hard work set a strong foundation for the country’s development, he said.

In paying tribute to the work of the older generation, Mr Lee said the package cannot fully repay Singapore’s pioneers for their contributions, but he hopes it will be accepted as a sincere gesture of thanks.





Honouring their contributions


MALAY PIONEERS WHO CHOSE SINGAPORE

"For the Malay community, Separation meant a moment of choice - between joining Malaysia as part of the majority, or remaining in Singapore as a minority.

Many of you chose to stay in Singapore to start a new life here, together. Your choice enabled Singapore to grow into a unique multi-racial and multi-religious society. We are grateful for your confidence, loyalty and contributions."





SHOWING OUR APPRECIATION

"The Government has taken steps to take care of our pioneer generation in their old age. All of us can also play a part in our own ways, be it a simple gesture of giving up seats on our public transport for the elderly or caring for the elderly in our families and the community. If all of us do our part, we will be a better society with heart and conscience."















Garden party at Istana
The Straits Times, 10 Feb 2014

Performers from this year's Chingay Parade welcoming guests at the annual Chinese New Year Garden Party for grassroots leaders at the Istana yesterday.

At the event was Mr Lee Kuan Yew, who had skipped a Tanjong Pagar event last week as he had been warded in hospital. He joined Tanjong Pagar GRC grassroots leaders for a group photo, along with fellow Tanjong Pagar GRC MP Indranee Rajah. Some 4,000 grassroots leaders and spouses attended the party hosted by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Cabinet ministers.





We were just doing our jobs: Pioneers
Older Singaporeans share about how they got involved in nation building
By Maryam MokhtarThe Straits Times, 10 Feb 2014

AMONG the more than 1,000 members of Singapore's pioneer generation who were at the Istana yesterday morning was an army officer who trained the first SAF regulars and NS men, a hotelier who raised millions for the Community Chest, a teacher, and a prison warden who touched many lives.

Yet they all said they never thought they were doing anything out of the ordinary, much less lifting the next generation of Singaporeans on their shoulders, as it said in the invitations they had received to yesterday's tribute ceremony.

Instead, they were merely doing their jobs and finding solutions to things that went wrong.

Retired Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) colonel Goh Lye Choon, 73, was one of six platoon commanders who started the first national service battalion in 1967, and one of the first to train officer cadets, including a young Ng Jui Ping, who later became chief of defence force.

He also lived through some of the nation's darkest days.

In 1964, in the midst of Indonesia's Confrontation against Malaysia, Mr Goh received news that eight soldiers had been ambushed and killed by Indonesian special force agents in Kota Tinggi, Malaysia. Singapore was part of Malaysia then and three teams were sent to evacuate casualties and search for the enemy. Mr Goh volunteered to be among them.

"My old officers who worked with me in the earliest days were going to get involved without an officer commanding (them). So I volunteered to be the commanding officer, I wanted to serve with them," he said.

It took three months to complete their mission of hunting down the Indonesian enemies, 36 of whom were eventually killed.

Pioneers like him who protected Singapore during Konfrontasi were among those who came in for special mention in Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's tribute speech yesterday.

Mr Lee also spoke of the pioneers who served as some of the first regulars and NS men, building up the SAF and Home Team.

And he honoured heroes who fought different battles - leading community service efforts and moulding the country's young minds.

He mentioned mothers and housewives, Samsui women, farmers, traders, teachers, doctors and nurses who went to villages to teach about health and hygiene; civil servants who built homes, roads and drains; and grassroots leaders, unionists and political leaders who rallied Singaporeans to a common cause.

Veteran hotelier and former Community Chest chairman Jennie Chua, 70, said: "We didn't plan... to carry the future generations on our shoulders, like the invitation card said. We had dreams, we had fire, but we didn't expect anything... When things didn't go right, we found a way around it and we just went on."

Ms Chua, the former general manager of Raffles Hotel, was appointed ComChest chairman in 2000. She led the organisation till last year, spear-heading efforts that raised tens of millions of dollars for the needy each year.

Her involvement in community work grew out of "my experiences having gone through hard times growing up", she said.

Former Member of Parliament and school principal Wan Hussin Zoohri, 76, said of his three decades teaching Malay and history at Sang Nila Utama Secondary and as principal of Tun Seri Lanang and Mayflower secondary schools: "We went through the ups and downs of nation building in the early years and it was about educating the young. Many of the students I taught have now gone on to become leaders in their own fields, be it lawyers or engineers... it makes me happy just when they call to tell me how they are doing," he said.

"After all the years of sacrifice, this gesture is most welcome and long overdue," he said of yesterday's tribute and package.

PM Lee said the tribute party for the pioneer generation was a "modest gesture".

While it was not possible to invite the hundreds of thousands of pioneers still alive, those present represented the many individuals who had contributed to the country in various ways, big or small, he said.

Technician supervisor Ong Soh Ha, 78, has spent close to half a century involved in grassroots activities in Telok Blangah. He was also a volunteer with the People's Defence Force back in the late 1950s, and patrolled the Tanjong Pagar port to keep it safe from would-be saboteurs.

Of his volunteer and grassroots activities, he said: "I do it because I support Singapore. The Government built up our country - the roads, the buildings - and I wanted to help them as a Singaporean."

Mr Ellappan Parasuraman, 78, worked as a project engineer for ST Electronics and helped develop communications systems for the air force and navy.

He described yesterday's tribute as "wonderful" and said he was grateful for the help he will receive from the Pioneer Generation Package.

The Government's "modest gesture" also left a deep impression on retired prison officer Saman Ismail, 65. He was among the first batch of men to enlist for NS, where he learnt discipline and teamwork.

"I benefited physically and mentally. I could contribute to the defence of my country for two years," he said.

That experience of serving Singapore spurred him to join the civil service, and he spent four decades in the Prison Service. He is glad to have played a part, from his post "on-the-ground" dealing with prisoners, to shifting the focus from incarceration to rehabilitation.

Asked how he felt about the nation honouring his work, he teared and said: "I feel very honoured, very happy. After retirement, you think you have already done everything and every day is the same. Out of the blue, to think that they recognised what I have done after many years of service, it really lifted me up."




FOR ALL THEY DID

You have contributed in many ways, big and small.

As mothers and housewives, bringing up new generations of Singaporeans.

As farmers and Samsui women, traders and factory workers, putting food on the table for your families and keeping Singapore going.

As members of the Volunteer Corps protecting Singapore during Konfrontasi, or of the Vigilante Corps keeping our streets safe from saboteurs. As our earliest regulars and national servicemen, building up the SAF and the Home Team.

As doctors, treating and caring for our sick, and as nurses, working alongside them, going to villages to teach people about nutrition, hygiene and health, and to schools to screen and immunise our children.

As teachers, setting up new schools and nurturing our young. And as young officers in PWD, HDB or PUB, building our public infrastructure.

As grassroots volunteers, unionists and political leaders, rallying Singaporeans around our common cause. Thank you all and through you, thank you to all in our pioneer generation.






Pioneers' health-care package 'has right focus'
Benefits plug gap arising from lack of medical insurance, savings: Experts
By Tham Yuen-C And Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 11 Feb 2014

WHEN Singapore's pioneer generation started working, there was no Medisave, no MediShield and no Medifund. Salaries were low and people had to retire at an earlier age.

As a result, they may not have saved enough to pay for their medical care.

Given these circumstances, the health-care benefits provided by the Pioneer Generation Package give them what they need most, said health-care and ageing experts as well as MPs yesterday.

Said Dr Ng Wai Chong, medical director of the Hua Mei Centre for Successful Ageing: "In that era, not everybody had the good fortune of getting an education.

"Even if they worked hard, they may not have earned a lot or saved enough."

So, for many like retiree S. P. Chandrashagaran, 74, the benefits come in handy. The former caretaker wears a pacemaker and has used most of his Medisave funds on his medical bills.

Mr Chandrashagaran, like most of his generation, has no medical insurance.

For these pioneers, the package Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced on Sunday will provide enhanced subsidies for outpatient treatment, additional annual Medisave top-ups and help with premiums for the new national insurance scheme, MediShield Life.

The health-care benefits are to recognise their contributions in building modern Singapore.

Those who qualify must be 65 or older by the end of this year. They must also have become Singapore citizens before 1987.

Mr Chandrashagaran's situation is typical of most from the pioneer generation, as they did not have enough in their Medisave accounts to pay for insurance premiums, said MP Chia Shi-Lu, a member of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Health.

The 3M framework of Medisave, MediShield and Medifund was started only in 1984.

Those who suffer from chronic ailments and require frequent visits to the doctor will also benefit from the package, said MP Fatimah Lateef, as subsidies for outpatient treatment will be higher.

Amid the unanimous support for the package, there is, however, disagreement on whether everyone who qualifies should get the same amount of benefits.

MP Liang Eng Hwa feels it should be equally distributed to all: "This is not a social welfare assistance package, so we should not distinguish by housing type or income."

But Ms Eleanor Yap, editor of seniors' magazine Ageless Online, said well-off pioneers should give their benefits to the needy.

Similarly, Dr Kanwaljit Soin, past president of Women's Initiative for Ageing Successfully, said a minimum amount should be given to all, but with extra top-ups for the more needy.

As for the cost of the package, economist Phua Kai Hong put the likely bill at under $4 billion a year, roughly equal to Singapore's annual health expenditure.

It is still a large sum, but it will decrease each year, he added, as the number of pioneers dwindles.

Mr Liang, deputy chairman of the Finance Government Parliamentary Committee, said the annual sum would be "manageable".

"We should be able to pay for the package through revenue generated from taxes. If we continue to grow the economy to generate more revenue, then we won't have to increase taxes."





WHAT THE PIONEERS SAY


MRS MARY CHEW, 76, RETIRED ADMINISTRATIVE CLERK

"I never expected that the Government would consider what I've done a 'contribution' (to the country).

As a person, you do what you can; any reward is secondary. This is a privilege and a surprise. I've a pension so I'm fine as far as medical bills are concerned. Still, it's good to have this package to fall back on."



MR PHILIP CHEW, 78, RETIRED PUBLIC HEALTH OFFICER

"In those days, we, the pioneer generation, had very low salaries and low Central Provident Fund (CPF) (sums).

I used to pay my MediShield premiums using CPF, but since two years ago, I needed to top up with a few hundred dollars out of my pocket. Without this package's top-ups to my Medisave account (which can be used for MediShield Life premiums), maybe I could have afforded to pay my premiums for only another 10 more years.



MRS JAYAMANI CHANDRASHAGARAN, 69, RETIRED NURSE

"I am already well covered by my insurance. But not everybody is as lucky as me...

The Government should find those who are really in need and help them more. They shouldn't help everybody, some are already well-to-do."



MR JOHN MORRICE, 80, SINGAPORE ARMED FORCES VETERAN

"I get full medical benefits under my pension scheme, which covers my wife as long as I live. Once I pass on, my wife loses everything. But now with this package, at least when I die, she will be covered under that."





Who is eligible?

THE Pioneer Generation Package will be for all Singaporeans who will be at least 65 years old by the end of this year. That means they would have been born in 1949 or earlier.

Those not born here must have become Singapore citizens before 1987. This is to include all those who were citizens when Singapore became independent in 1965, or shortly after.

The reason for this is that the manual historical records of the years before 1987 are not complete with regard to registration dates of some citizens. Hence, all who became citizens before that year will be included.












 



 







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