Some elderly Singaporeans are taking matters into their own hands, in their bid to get Traditional Chinese Medicine, or TCM, covered under Pioneer Generation Package (PGP) subsidies.
In a written parliamentary reply earlier this month, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong described TCM as a form of "complementary medicine", and said the subsidies would not apply at TCM clinics.
About 20 elderly Singaporeans have, however, signed and handed in a petition to MP for Marine Parade GRC, Tin Pei Ling, whom they hope will push their cause. Under the PGP, pioneers who visit general practitioners (GPs) on the Community and Health Assist (CHAS) scheme will get subsidies, and this could be for ailments ranging from the common cold to chronic conditions.
However, 94-year-old Tan Chye Hong does not enjoy any subsidies when she visits her Chinese physician. She does so about two to three times a month, and her monthly bill adds up to about S$200 in all.
Her daughter, 64-year-old Koh Kim Teng, who stopped working three years ago, hoped the petition will be one step towards ultimately helping with their finances. "Because I'm not working; my mother is also not working. If the Pioneer Generation Package can help us, it's much better. My mother is more old-fashioned, and she likes to see the Chinese doctor rather than a western one."
TCM physician Francis Lee also explained why elderly Singaporeans prefer seeing Chinese physicians. "A lot of my patients, the elderly, don't want to go for operations. For example, for arthritis. Most of the western doctors will advise them to do so, but they refuse because they have no confidence in doing that kind of operation, and the cost is tremendously high.
"Even with Pioneer Generation subsidies, they still don't feel comfortable; they will still consult TCM practitioners. Because they know acupuncture does help a lot to relieve their pain. Sometimes, they also can recover slowly," Mr Lee added.
MP Tin Pei Ling said the petition was handed to her last week, and she is still verifying information with the parties involved. But once it is done, she will submit it to the Health Ministry.
"I've spoken to a few elderly Singaporeans who belong to the pioneer generation. Many of whom are my own residents and they, too, have come to me. For many of them, as part of their usual healthcare, they rely a lot on traditional medicine such as TCM," Ms Tin said. "So they have shared feedback that as part of the Pioneer Generation Package, the treatment cost or some of the cost associated going to TCM can be covered or can be subsidised in the package."
She filed a parliamentary question on this issue earlier this month, but continues to hope that the ministry will seriously consider the issue, and review the possibility of providing subsidies for TCM under the Pioneer Generation Package.