Government should foot lion’s share of health-care bill

I fully endorse Health Minister Gan Kim Yong’s call for a shift in mindset “from worrying about the challenges that come from ageing to celebrating longevity” (“Govt plan to engage public on ageing issues”; Wednesday).

However, I also hope the Government will play its part to allay the fears of growing old.

Most Singaporeans hope to be able to grow old in a comfortable – if not necessarily affluent – and carefree environment. To achieve this, Singaporeans and the Government have to manage their expectations.

A citizen’s greatest fears as he nears retirement age are not having access to affordable health care and not having a roof over his head.

Previously, I wrote about how the Government should foot the lion’s share of the health-care bill (“Retirement village concept not anti-family”; March 4), but I still do not see this happening.

For example, my cash outlay for tests at a restructured hospital may be low, with Medisave taking care of the bulk of the cost, but funds in my Medisave account are nevertheless my hard-earned money.

In a neighbouring country, the “actual” cost of similar tests is much lower, although my cash outlay will be far higher as I do not enjoy a government subsidy.

Thus, the Government must either reduce the actual cost or pick up a bigger share of the bill for health care in Singapore.

Then, there is the issue of means testing. Singaporeans are not exactly sure of the amount payable until after subsidies are given following means testing.

Health care is not a privilege but a benefit due to all Singaporeans. Once seniors know their health-care needs will be taken care of, they can look forward to a worry-free retirement.

In this respect, I am not sure that the Scandinavian taxation/social welfare system will be bad for Singapore. I may pay high taxes but I am assured that my heath-care bill will be taken care of.

As for housing, we will have to be realistic in downgrading when we retire.

An elderly couple has no need for a four-room HDB flat as the “nest” would most likely be empty by then.

The HDB could consider building retirement villages featuring studio apartments for Singaporeans aged 55 or older, medical facilities that can serve as a form of step-down care, exercise areas and staff to organise activities that involve the residents’ families or the community.

Singaporeans need to take responsibility for their golden years, and the Government has to slaughter some sacred cows to allay the fears of ageing.

Colin Loh

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