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Elderly, experts welcome Pioneer Generation Package

Response to the government's Pioneer Generation Package has been largely positive, and seniors are hopeful the healthcare subsidies will help defray their expenses.

SINGAPORE: Response to the government's Pioneer Generation Package has been largely positive, and seniors are hopeful the healthcare subsidies will help defray their expenses.

Experts said that even if the elderly consume more medical services with the subsidies, it is unlikely to add a strain to Singapore's public healthcare infrastructure.

Some of the benefits in the package include greater support for MediShield Life premiums, more subsidies for outpatient treatment and additional annual top-ups to Medisave.

The full details of the Pioneer Generation Package will be announced during the Budget on February 21. 

Some 450,000 Singaporeans are expected to benefit from the package.

Mr James Yeo, 74, a retiree who used to work in the shipping line, said: "I think (the package) is beneficial for most seniors, especially the medical benefits that will be provided for life.”

Mr Fang, 79, a retiree who used to work in an American firm, said that since he has been using his Medisave account, the Medisave top-ups will be helpful for him.

Many seniors Channel NewsAsia spoke with are hopeful the Pioneer Generation Package can help defray their healthcare expenses.

They said that some elderly Singaporeans are afraid to go to the doctor because they are worried about the costs, so the subsidies for outpatient treatment, especially, may help to change their attitudes.

Abhijit Ghosh, Healthcare & Pharmaceutical Leader at PwC Singapore, said: “Focusing on the outpatient treatment and the GP treatment, I think, is a very good measure in the right direction.

“This is because if our elderly population go for more outpatient treatments, it is less likely that they will be admitted into the hospitals for their healthcare needs. (This will put less) strain into our capacity constraints and the bed crunch situation that we're currently having.

“However, the devil is in the details, and we need to see that the government should have appropriate regulations to manage the supply side of the equation, because costs of healthcare services have also gone up significantly, so there needs to be some kind of regulation to manage those costs.”

The question is whether Singapore's public healthcare infrastructure can handle the potential increase in demand.

But experts said this shouldn't be a problem as the government has been ramping up the country's healthcare facilities.

Dr Eric Finkelstein, director of Lien Centre for Palliative Care, said: "It's certainly going to cost money, but the government has publicly stated that it is going to double healthcare spending and it has been saving up for such a thing, so it will be able to afford it with the money that it has."

But experts also said they hope some form of means testing will be applied, instead of having a blanket approach.

This is because those who can afford to pay can then pass their benefits to the less well-off, who may need more support.

As for defining the “pioneer generation” as those who were 16 years old and above in 1965, most experts agree it is a reasonable cut-off point.

Dr Ng Wai Chong, medical director of Hua Mei Centre for Successful Ageing, however pointed out that the cut-off age for women should be set lower.

"Women of the older generation tend to contribute as homemakers, and are not formally employed. They also tend to be younger than their husbands.

“So while the husbands enjoy the pioneer package, the women are not supported. We need to lower the cut-off age for women, perhaps at age 55," Dr Ng said.

Former teacher Ganeshan, 83, also said the government needs to reach out more to the elderly to help them understand better the benefits under the Pioneer Generation package.

"You have to educate them first and make them understand what it's all about. Of course it's very beneficial for all these elderly people, but how many of them know about it?" said the retiree.

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