Monday, 10 March 2014

Many Singaporeans unaware of their Budget benefits

Pioneers in particular in the dark, so direct communication may be necessary: Shanmugam
By Tham Yuen-c, The Sunday Times, 9 Mar 2014

Many people are still unaware of the benefits they are getting from this year's Budget and there is a need to think seriously about communication efforts, said Foreign Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam yesterday.

This is especially so for the $8 billion Pioneer Generation Package, the centrepiece of the Budget.

Meant for first-generation Singaporeans, the health-care package includes Medisave top-ups and subsidies for outpatient treatment and will pay for part of their MediShield Life premiums.

Although some 450,000 people would benefit, said Mr Shanmugam, few know exactly how. He estimated that about 70 per cent of those who qualify do not know what the package is about.

This is why the Government needs to consider direct communications as a way of getting the message across, he said, after a session to explain the Budget in his Chong Pang ward.

"This touches so many people, and it's very important for everyone to understand what it really contains. I think we have to go back and think about how we are going to bring the message to everyone," he said.

Besides the direct beneficiaries of the package - Singaporeans who are 65 and older this year and who became citizens before 1987 - their children, too, need to understand its details, he added.

The reason: They will also benefit, as their parents' health-care needs will be taken care of by the package.

Those who are not pioneers have not been left out, noted Mr Shanmugam. For example, families with children may qualify for the kindergarten fee subsidies and if they live in Housing Board flats, they could also get goods and services tax (GST) vouchers and rebates on service and conservancy charges.

Some of those between the ages of 55 and 64 would have just missed out on the Pioneer Generation Package, he said, but they too will get Medisave top-ups and GST vouchers.

Commenting on Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Lim Swee Say's statement during last week's Budget debate that there could be more such packages in future for those who are not seniors today, Mr Shanmugam said it is, indeed, a possibility.

But that is only if the country is governed well and can make and save enough money to afford it, he added.

"This is not a promise, but there can be another package next time, why not?" he said.

All pioneers will get a letter informing them of their benefits and their first round of Medisave top-ups in early July.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Finance (MOF), which is leading the Government's efforts in communications, said: "We recognise the challenges in reaching out to all the pioneers who will be receiving the Pioneer Generation Package, but we will be making every effort to do so."

Among some of the things it has planned are to display collaterals at the clinics where pioneers can get treatment subsidies, and also to screen short TV programmes about the package.

It will launch a website later this year providing more details about the benefits.

Pioneers will be able to get someone to explain the package to them at the 26 Citizen Connect Centres at Community Clubs around the island.

MOF is also working with other government agencies and community partners to help get the word out, said the spokesman.

Ever since the package was announced during Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam's Budget speech, MPs have been holding dialogues to explain the components of the package to residents.

Some, like Tampines GRC MP Baey Yam Keng and Yu Hua MP Grace Fu, have also conducted sessions in dialect.

At the Chong Pang dialogue yesterday was Mr Aaron Ng, general manager of Nam Hong Welfare Service Society.

His centre, which runs a free traditional Chinese medicine clinic, rounded up 30 of its patients for an impromptu information session more than a week ago, and found that two-thirds of the seniors had not heard about the package.

"Many of them cannot read newspapers and they may not understand the TV programmes; we need to explain to them personally," he said.

Pioneers' Medisave top-ups in July 2014
By Maryam Mokhtar, The Straits Times, 6 Mar 2014

THE first round of Medisave top-ups under the Pioneer Generation Package will be paid out in early July, a month earlier than anticipated.

A Pioneer Generation card that can be used at clinics will be posted to pioneers before September, Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam also announced yesterday. The card allows them to be easily identified to get additional subsidies.

Mr Tharman said that the two years' worth of Medisave top-ups will help the pioneer generation meet MediShield premiums before the new universal insurance scheme MediShield Life kicks in at the end of next year.

The lifelong annual top-ups for pioneers range from between $200 and $800 depending on age.

Mr Tharman also made clear that the MediShield Life subsidies, which are part of the pioneer package, will cover Medisave-approved private health insurance plans that many people have.

"The Medisave-approved plans are Integrated Shield Plans and they include the basic MediShield as a basic component, and in future, the plans will include MediShield Life as a basic component," he said.

"So those who are on Integrated Shield Plans will receive the same dollar amount of subsidies as those on MediShield Life."

Benefits under the Community Health Assist Scheme (CHAS) that all pioneers will enjoy as part of the Budget package will also be brought forward from January next year to September this year.

These will kick in at the same time as enhanced subsidies are rolled out at specialist outpatient clinics.

The Chas scheme lets pioneers receive subsidised treatment at participating private GP clinics and dental clinics.

Several MPs had asked for the pioneers to be recognised in other ways, such as free entry to pools and tourist attractions.

Mr Tharman said the Ministerial Committee on Ageing will engage businesses and organisations to offer special privileges to seniors, as part of efforts to celebrate Singapore's 50th birthday next year.

Slew of outreach efforts on Pioneer Generation Package
By Vimita Mohandas, Channel NewsAsia, 6 Mar 2014

Reaching out to 450,000 Singaporeans eligible for the Pioneer Generation Package (PGP) may be a massive exercise.

But the government is sparing no efforts to achieve this.

The People's Association and grassroots organisations have already held some 50 dialogues and focus group discussions to explain the package.

These involved close to 5,000 grassroots leaders and residents.

These included sessions where vernacular languages were used, such as the two Malay sessions on 25 February by Dr Intan Azura Mokhtar and Mr Zainal Sapari and on 2 March by Madam Halimah Yacob; the Indian session on 3 March by Mr Hri Kumar; and two dialect sessions for seniors at the end of February by Minister Grace Fu and Mr Baey Yam Keng.

A further 30 dialogues will be organised aimed to reach out to another 3,000 residents.

More sessions are being planned, including those that target non-English speaking residents.

Whampoa estate houses a significantly higher proportion of elderly residents compared to other estates.

One in five of them are older than 60 years old.

And the government plans to tap on existing outreach programmes to help educate these elderly about the Pioneer Generation Package.

MP for Whampoa, Heng Chee How, said: "We have a whole host of ongoing activities targeted at outreaching to our seniors because of the nature of an old estate like this.

"So what we need to do is to tap on all these ongoing activities in this outreach and bring this news (Pioneer Generation Package) to our seniors.

"But as DPM Tharman pointed out the key thing is not so much about the details, it's the simplicity of it, which is to say that it's automatic. So don't worry, you will be mailed a pioneers' card and when in doubt show the card."

He added: " The current activities include RC block parties. I also have a Senior Citizens' Executive Committee as well as the Active Ageing Committee...(and) the ongoing 'City of All Ages' project.

"The 'City for All Ages' project aims to enhance the liveability of the built environment, develop age-friendly solutions and services, as well as enhance the integration of services with the built environment."

Mr Heng said house visits will also be carried out to ensure that no household will be left out.

The public can also log on to the Singapore Budget website where a dedicated page for this package has been launched.

It has a self-check system where people can key in their NRIC numbers to check if they qualify.

A dedicated PGP microsite will also be launched later this year to share additional details on the benefits of the package.

A booklet on this year's Budget will also be given out to all households and this will include a special section on the Pioneer Generation Package.

The Finance Ministry will also be working with other government agencies and various community touch points like polyclinics and specialist outpatient clinics. Collaterals will also be made available at these healthcare institutions.

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