“[Our] society has a duty to take care of those who have done so much for Singapore. The question to ask ourselves is: How much is this generation of young Singaporeans willing to give of ourselves, to support the older generation, especially those who came from the founding generation of Singapore citizens?” – Parliamentary speech on 21 October 2011 by Member of Parliament for Marine Parade GRC, Ms Tin Pei Ling.
The issue of the elderly has been a focus for Ms Tin since she became an MP after the General Election in May last year. Vilified, especially by netizens, for certain gaffes during the elections, Ms Tin nonetheless has shirked these off and has focused on her grassroots work.
“I pay particular attention to elderly issues, because about 1 in 3 residents in MacPherson are aged 50 years old and above,” she said in her Parliamentary speech last year. “But our entire nation is also ageing.” Ms Tin is MP for the MacPherson ward in Marine Parade.
“We have a moral responsibility to take care of them, to help them enjoy fulfilling lives in their silver years. We will all grow old, some sooner than others. This is a harsh reality of life, but we can make it less harsh,” she says.
Medical cost for the elderly is one issue which many are concerned with. Indeed, Ms Tin herself related how an elderly couple in her ward were “not visiting doctors to receive the medical attention they need because they are worried about high medical fees” even though there are subsidies for these. “Shockingly, the elderly lady even said that she is prepared to let the husband die,” Ms Tin said.
“This case shows that healthcare costs can weigh heavily on many elderly,” she said. “This may even deter them from seeking treatment early, increasing the risk of complications that can cost them more money later on and worse, endanger their lives. Some elderly may also not fully understand the range of different schemes available to help them. Many cannot tell the difference between Medisave, MediShield and Medifund. Sometimes, on probing an elderly Singaporean’s healthcare difficulties, we realized that they could have benefitted from MediShield and Medifund much earlier.”
While medical costs weighs heavily on Singaporeans, especially the elderly poor, there is one group of people which is “just a rung above the bottom” which Ms Tin is also concerned about. These are those who may have jobs but who, for various reasons, are not able to afford medical costs, and do not seek the treatment which they need.
“Some don’t go for follow-ups because of a fear of finding out about more illnesses they must spend on,” Ms Tin told the Straits Times on 6 February. “Some don’t want to burden their kids because the family is already struggling, or they’d rather spend on food.”
To help this group of people, Ms Tin and a group of young grassroots volunteers in her ward have initiated the MacPherson Cares fund. The fund will be launched next month and will disburse up to $300 a year in cash to elderly residents of the ward as reimbursement for their medical bills.
The scheme is not targeted at the very poor with critical or long-term illnesses. These can be helped with other government schemes, like Medifund.
MacPherson Cares is to encourage those who require medical care or follow-ups to continue to do so, bypassing the sometimes lengthy period required in applying for national schemes. “In the interim period,” Ms Tin said, “the fund can give them some financial relief and the confidence to continue seeking medical treatment.”
Ms Tin also raised a radical idea regarding basic healthcare for the elderly in her Parliamentary speech. “We now have improved financing policies, but still, we hear cries for more support and I think we can do more. Specifically, just like how Singapore citizen children in government primary schools need not pay for school fees (miscellaneous fees not included), might this House also consider taking the bold step of providing free basic healthcare to elderly Singaporeans in public healthcare settings?”
With Singapore’s aged population set to hit almost a million by 2030, healthcare will continue to be a major concern. This is especially so given that wages and job security for this group continue to be uncertain.
While the government contemplates more tweaks and introduction of new schemes to address healthcare needs, whatever help given to the elderly in the meantime, such as the MacPherson Cares fund, will be welcome by those who need the help.