Sunday 31 August 2014

Health subsidies to benefit 1.2 million people as pioneers join Community Health Assist Scheme from 1 September 2014

This is nearly double the number that qualified for such assistance in Jan
By Linette Lai, The Straits Times, 30 Aug 2014

ON MONDAY, 1.15 million people will be able to pay less at some GP and dental clinics, as subsidies kick in for 300,000 pioneer generation members.

This is nearly double the number that qualified for such benefits in January.

"In fact, a doctor has actually told me that some pioneers have already called up to pre-book appointments for September," said Senior Minister of State for Health Amy Khor yesterday, during a visit to GP and dental clinics in Bedok South.

Now, there are 850,000 people on the Community Health Assist Scheme (CHAS), a nationwide programme for middle- to lower- income households.

This includes 150,000 pioneer generation members who had previously qualified because of their income level or housing type.

The remaining seniors will join the scheme, which gives them subsidies at more than 1,100 participating GP and dental clinics, on Monday.

On the same day, lower- to middle-income Singaporeans will also start getting subsidies of between 60 per cent and 70 per cent at specialist outpatient clinics (SOCs) - more than the 50 per cent subsidy for regular patients.

But Dr Khor stressed that these additional subsidies are applicable for subsidised bills only.

Those who wish to seek subsidised care should see a polyclinic doctor or - for those who have CHAS cards or belong to the pioneer generation - a GP on the CHAS scheme, she said.

"If need be - if the doctor assesses that they need specialised care - then they can be referred to the SOC for subsidised care," she said.

Dr Khor also said she had received queries from pioneer generation members on whether they should still apply for CHAS cards.

She suggested that those who fall in the lower- to middle- income bracket should do so, as this means they would get even higher subsidies at SOCs.

One person who has already booked her slot ahead of time is housewife May Leong, 65. Yesterday, she made a dental appointment for January next year.

"I know the scheme starts in September, so I wanted to see what kind of dental benefits they had available," she said.

Dr Lim Yong Chin of Access Medical Bedok South said he has been receiving more queries about the Pioneer Generation Package in the past month.

He added that one of the most common questions is how much subsidy they will be getting.

"I try and explain it in terms of the average bill cost," he said. "That makes it a lot more real for them."

Disabled pioneers get free screenings at home
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times, 30 Aug 2014

A TRIP to the clinic is too difficult for 82-year-old Abu Bakar Tik, who lost the use of his legs after being hospitalised for pneumonia two years ago.

He now spends his day in a reclining chair at his three-room flat in Bukit Batok East, and has to be helped to the toilet for a shower by his wife and grandson.

"I struggle to move him, even when my grandson is here," said his wife Jamila Abdul Kadir, 71, in Malay. "Don't even ask about going out of the house."

But yesterday, Mr Abu Bakar got a visit by a physiotherapist at his home to assess whether he qualifies for the Pioneer Generation Disability Assistance Scheme (PioneerDAS).

The house visit was part of Jurong GRC MP Halimah Yacob's push to help as many pioneers as possible benefit from the scheme.

In the first effort of its kind, residents in her Bukit Batok East ward can sign up for free screenings to determine if they are eligible for PioneerDAS.

Under the scheme, those who cannot do at least three activities on their own, such as bathing, dressing and eating, will receive $1,200 a year as part of the Pioneer Generation Package.

But to qualify, they need to be certified by assessors like doctors or physiotherapists. Such screenings cost about $35 at polyclinics and $45 at private clinics.

Ms Zainab Syed Abdul Rahman, 61, who uses a cane, accompanied her 101-year-old aunt Meriyam Syed Salim, who uses a wheelchair, for the free screening.

"I'm retired, so even little things like this help with our monthly expenses," she said.

A doctor, occupational therapist and physiotherapist from JurongHealth conducted the screening yesterday. They saw about 18 residents at Bukit Batok East Community Club in the afternoon, and visited another 12 at home.

About 100 residents have already signed up for screenings. A second session will be held in October. Madam Halimah, who is the Speaker of Parliament, attended the first screening at her ward yesterday and hopes to see similar efforts at other wards.

Commenting on recent appeals by seniors who missed out on qualifying for the Pioneer Generation Package, she said those whose appeals fail should not despair as there are other avenues for help.

The package's benefits include subsidies for outpatient care and annual Medisave top-ups.

"Our society and health-care system are compassionate enough to assess them on a case-by-case basis," she said.

Singaporeans must be 65 or older this year and must have become a citizen before 1987 to be recognised as pioneers.

Last-minute appeal by over 1,200 for pioneer package
By Priscilla Goy And Linette Lai, The Straits Times, 29 Aug 2014

MORE than 1,200 people have made a last-minute appeal to be counted for the Pioneer Generation Package, even as those eligible received their cards this month. That is more than six times the 180 or so requests received as of two months ago.

To be counted among the pioneers, one must be 65 or older this year and must have become a citizen before 1987. About 450,000 people qualify.

Among those who appealed, about half do not meet the age criterion, and the rest do not meet the citizenship criterion.

MPs interviewed by The Straits Times said most of the residents who asked them for help had just marginally missed the cut.

They said that most appeals started coming in recent weeks, as Sept 1 - when eligible seniors can start using their Pioneer Generation cards to enjoy health- care subsidies - draws nearer.

For instance, Ms Lee Bee Wah, an MP for Nee Soon GRC, said that until last week, she had received fewer than 10 appeal requests. But at her Meet-the-People Session on Monday, there were four requests - adding up to "about a dozen" so far.

Awareness has also grown, as MPs spread the news of the package. "When I personally distributed the package, there was one resident from my Nee Soon East ward who came to appeal and her husband was part of the pioneer generation," said Mr Patrick Tay, also an MP for Nee Soon GRC.

There is a 10-member panel to look into the cases. It focuses on people who miss out on the citizenship criterion.

They include those "who have lived in Singapore since the early years and demonstrated clear efforts to sink roots here".

Mr Charles Chong, MP for Joo Chiat, spoke to someone who was a teacher for over 10 years before she got her citizenship - but not before 1987. "Due to her long service and contributions, there were grounds to put in an appeal."

Ms Lee said that some who had come from overseas "were busy working and did not apply for citizenship until much later".

For the age cut-off, the Finance Ministry said an inclusive approach had been taken by setting the threshold at an age of at least 16 at the time of Singapore's independence in 1965, instead of adulthood.

Ms Ellen Lee, an MP for Sembawang GRC, hopes the panel will be generous to those who are ill or from needy families. "I had one resident who listed 11 illnesses that she had when she asked me for help. She hopes to be counted as the Pioneer Generation Package would be useful for her."

Mr Timothy James de Souza, who chairs the appeals panel, said: "We would like to thank appellants and their families for sharing their life stories with us. The panel feels that each case is unique and therefore deserves to be considered on its own merits."

Seniors flock to clinics as pioneer subsidies kick in
Number of elderly patients up 30% as some had even delayed treatment
By Janice Tai, The Straits Times, 2 Sep 2014

SINGAPORE's elderly citizens flocked to the doctor's or dentist's yesterday, brandishing their new red-and-white cards as subsidies at clinics islandwide kicked in for 450,000 pioneer generation members.

Medical and dental chains reported at least a 30 per cent increase in the number of seniors who sought treatment.

Many elderly people who went to their neighbourhood polyclinics were aware that they could use the Pioneer Generation (PG) cards for the first time and took them along. Some had even postponed treatment last week to take advantage of the subsidies.

"My daughter wanted to bring me here on Friday as I was feverish, but I wanted to wait till today to get the discount," said retiree Ang W.F., 82.

PG card holders, who are Singaporeans aged 65 or older this year, can get subsidies such as an extra 50 per cent off services and drugs which are already heavily subsidised. This is available at all polyclinics and specialist outpatient clinics in public hospitals.

For the more than 1,100 participating general practitioner (GP) and dental clinics, the discounts include getting $28.50 off bills for common ailments such as cough and cold.

Most patients who sought treatment yesterday were showing up for their regular check-ups, based on a Straits Times check with 100 elderly patients from more than 10 polyclinics.

Others, such as Mr Chen Tek Hsin, were drawn in by the subsidies to seek treatment they would otherwise not have had. The 82-year-old retiree had his teeth cleaned for the first time in 20 years by a dentist.

Besides common and chronic illnesses, the PG card subsidies also cover preventive treatment such as scaling and polishing.

Polyclinics, GPs and dental clinics such as Parkway Shenton and Q&M Dental Group geared up to handle the increased volume by having more staff or getting their IT database ready to identify eligible patients.

Yet there were teething problems on the ground. Some questioned why they were not asked to produce their PG cards, fearing that they might be missing out on the discounts.

"When you go to the supermarket, the cashier always asks you if you have a PAssion card, so why can't the polyclinics do the same with this PG card?" asked retiree Michael Lee, 66, referring to the People's Association's privilege card.

The Health Ministry said those who visit polyclinics and specialist outpatient clinics in public hospitals do not need to produce the card to enjoy the discounts, but those who go to GPs and dental clinics still have to.

Others were confused over the subsidies to which the card entitles them. Unlike the 50 per cent off subsidies for services, the discounts on medication start only in January next year.

"I ran out of medicine two days ago so I waited till today, but it's funny that the subsidies don't start on the same day," said former businessman Steven Ang, 70.

Many pioneers not aware subsidies on drugs start next Jan
By Kash Cheong, The Straits Times, 2 Sep 2014

PIONEERS were caught off guard yesterday when told that the additional subsidies do not apply to medicines yet.

Many were not aware that although their Pioneer Generation cards entitled them to additional discounts on subsidised services, the enhanced subsidies on drugs will start only on Jan 1.

"Many old folk get confused by these different timings," said retired businessman Steven Ang, 70. "They expect all the (Pioneer Generation) benefits to kick in at the same time, but some of them do not know that the enhanced drug subsidy kicks in next year."

Starting yesterday, pioneers receive an additional 50 per cent off subsidised services such as consultation and blood tests at polyclinics and specialist outpatient clinics. The similar discount for subsidised drugs applies from Jan 1.

The Ministry of Health yesterday said more time is needed for that because enhancement to the drug subsidies is an "extensive change" involving the specialist outpatient clinics and polyclinics.

The date of implementation was also highlighted in the mass media, dialogues and posters, said the ministry in a statement.

Polyclinics have also displayed notices to inform patients.

But many elderly patients missed the messages.

Mr Luan Bao An, 66, for instance, presented his Pioneer Generation card and expected to get more subsidies for his high blood pressure medication. "But I did not know that we get more discounts only in January," said the retired goods driver, who was informed by polyclinic staff.

Mr Johnny Aw, 65, a security guard, was bewildered when he found out about it from polyclinic staff. "Why must it take so long to update the medicine scheme? Why don't they start enhanced subsidies at the same time?"

Mr Ang called for better communication from the authorities. "The Government could have given more details in the catchy television and radio commercials to spread the word about when we get what."

Or perhaps, suggested retired education officer Tjong Tjie Moi, 72, doing so by word of mouth is the most appropriate. "Those who know the details on Pioneer Generation cards can share them with their friends to clear the air, so they know even before they go to polyclinics," she said.

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