SINGAPORE: The government will set aside S$8 billion under a new Pioneer Generation Fund, aimed at recognising the contributions of first-generation Singaporeans born on or before 1949.
Giving details of the Pioneer Generation Package during his Budget statement on Friday, Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said all those eligible will receive the special benefits for life, regardless of income.
The measures specific to the Pioneer Generation Package will not be means-tested.
Mr Tharman said: "These special benefits that we are providing the pioneer generation will not be differentiated by income because our objective is to honour the contributions of this whole generation."
Member of Parliament for Marine Parade GRC Tin Pei Ling said: "There will not be means testing and I think this is the right thing to do because the pioneer generation were the ones who worked hard to build this country of ours.
"And for some of them, quite a lot of them, they started off with humble beginnings but through their own hard work they made it in life. We should not penalise them for that."
Mr Tharman said the total cost in nominal terms will be slightly over S$9 billion.
With accumulated interest over time, Mr Tharman said money in the Pioneer Generation Fund will be enough to pay for the full projected cost of the package.
Sustainability is a key concern with this package, having to pay out those eligible for life.
Singapore is in a good fiscal position and Mr Tharman said it is prudent and right to set aside money now, while there are sufficient resources to do so.
He said: "With this fund, we assure the pioneer generation that Singapore will honour our commitment to them, regardless of future economic or fiscal circumstances.
"The fund also ensures that Budgets in subsequent years can focus on the needs and challenges of the future, for all Singaporeans."
There are three components to the package - outpatient care, Medisave top-ups and life-long subsidies for MediShield Life.
Under outpatient care - those with common illnesses or chronic conditions like diabetes and hypertension will get 50 per cent off the nett bill at all specialist outpatient clinics or polyclinics - on top of subsidies.
Mr Tharman said: "For pioneer generation members, it amounts to 75 per cent to 85 per cent subsidies for treatment at the SOCs (specialist outpatient clinics).
"Similarly the pioneer generation will receive an additional 50 per cent off their subsidised bills at polyclinics."
All eligible will also be put on the Community Health Assist Scheme (CHAS).
The scheme provides subsidies for medical and dental care at participating general practitioners (GPs) and dental clinics.
There will be a new Pioneer Generation Disability Assistance scheme, for those with moderate to severe disabilities.
This group or their caregivers will receive S$1,200 cash annually.
These subsidies will come into effect from September.
The additional CHAS benefits will be implemented in January 2015.
More details will be provided during the Committee of Supply debate by the Health Ministry.
On Medisave top-ups - those eligible will receive annual payouts of between S$200 and S$800.
Older cohorts will get more.
These top-ups will be paid out from August this year.
As for MediShield Life premiums, Mr Tharman said there will be special subsidies to ensure premiums are affordable for the pioneer generation.
Subsidies will increase with age - from 40 per cent at age 65 to 60 per cent at age 90.
Mr Tharman said this means that a 65-year-old today, who is expected to live till 85, will get a 50 per cent subsidy over his lifetime.
The target is to fully cover the MediShield Life premium of those aged 80 and above - after premium subsidies and Medisave top-ups are factored in.
This will apply also to those who are currently not covered under MediShield.
For the younger cohort, for example, those aged 70 this year, and already on MediShield, the aim is to cover half of their new premium for MediShield Life - after factoring in subsidies and Medisave top-ups.
If they are not on MediShield, they can expect to pay less than the current premiums.
The MediShield Life subsidies will be implemented in end 2015, when MediShield Life is introduced.
For those who miss out in the criteria but may have good claims, Mr Tharman said there will be a panel set up to assess appeals on a case-by-case basis.
For citizens aged 55 and above, they will get Medisave top-ups of between S$100 and S$200 every year over the next five years.
This initiative is expected to cost the government some S$440 million over five years.
Member of Parliament for Tampines GRC Irene Ng commented: "The major challenge is to make sure that the older generation, especially those that are lower educated, will be able to understand the messages and make use of the subsidies and feel assured by the messages.
"It's one thing to announce in the Budget but if the older generation do not understand it or do not have a full recognition of what they can avail themselves to, then they will still feel fearful and feel afraid to fall sick."
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