I attended the Prime Minister’s National Day Rally 2013 at the ITE College Central campus last night. Many of the initiatives announced were ones that I could agree with and support — not least because some were what my colleagues and I in the Workers’ Party (WP) had been calling for in recent years.
In WP’s National Day Statement two years ago, titled “Honouring our First Generation”, we said:
The men and women in our pioneer generation have borne society’s burdens for the past 46 years and more. They gave the best years of their lives to our nation. Our nation must now give its best in return to them. Even as we strive for progress and economic efficiency, our nation has an obligation to help this generation of Singaporeans live their latter years in dignity, comfort and fulfilment; free from worry and fear for lack of provision.
In last night’s speech, the Straits Times reported:
(PM Lee) specifically singled out a group he called Singapore’s pioneer generation, whom he said had worked hard to build today’s Singapore…
These people, in their late 60s and above, and now mostly retired, said Mr Lee, and had “paved the way for us to live a better life than themselves”, and “had fewer safety nets”.
“We must take special care of this pioneer generation in their golden years,” he said.
During my maiden speech in Parliament in October 2011, I said:
…whether in healthcare, public housing or public transport, the Government has gone too far down the road of pursuing free market efficiency, often to the detriment of the elderly and low wage workers.
At a time when our citizens are exposed to heightened risks in the form of global competition, increased economic volatility, rising inequality and wage stagnation, the Government is exposing them to even more competition from foreigners. Our workers are told to be “cheaper, better, faster”, more self-reliant and less selective about their jobs.
This regressive transfer of risks from government to citizens must count as one of the PAP Government’s biggest policy failures in the last decade.
The demographic, social and economic changes of the 21st century demand a rethink of how much a government should provide for its people, and how much we can reasonably ask our citizens to provide for themselves.
PM Lee said in his speech:
…we must make a strategic shift in our approach to nation building. Individuals must still do their best, but the Community and Government must do more to reduce the pressures on individuals.
In my Budget Debate speech in Parliament in 2012, I had said:
Extending the maximum MediShield coverage age from 85 to 90 years old is a move in the right direction. However, would the Government consider removing the age limit completely? There are only about 9,000 Singaporeans aged above 90. Many of them would have outlived their own spouses, siblings or children, and may have no immediate relatives to care for them.
We should be doing all we can to help this small group of seniors who have worked tirelessly to build up Singapore to what it is today, instead of pulling the rug from under their feet when they need it the most.
Catastrophic illness insurance scheme MediShield is set for an overhaul. It will be “revamped” as MediShield Life, with its age ceiling of 90 years removed to provide lifelong coverage for all Singaporeans…
During the Committee of Supply debate in Parliament in March 2012, I said:
…some of those who need MediShield coverage the most, like babies with congenital problems and the very old, are often denied coverage.
MediShield currently covers 92% of Singaporeans. Those who are not covered include some of the elderly, homemakers, and others who have voluntarily opted out of MediShield. Some are not able to obtain MediShield coverage due to pre-existing conditions.
I would like to ask what the Ministry is doing to achieve a higher level of coverage for all Singaporeans? What is the Ministry’s targeted level of coverage of MediShield?
And the answer came during last night’s speech:
Elaborating on the changes, (PM Lee) said that universal coverage means there will be no more opting out, with everyone covered including the elderly and those with pre-existing illnesses.
Again on MediShield, I said during my Parliamentary speech in 2011:
If we are to achieve this goal (of universal health coverage), we need to expand the coverage of MediShield and reduce the over-reliance on direct payments by patients at the time they need the care. To fund this, we need to strengthen the current forms of prepayment and risk-pooling, and provide assistance to those who cannot afford the premiums, like housewives and the elderly. All this points to a need to perform some major surgery on MediShield.
And as announced last night:
But with better benefits and coverage, this will mean that premiums will go up, he said. “(It) has to be because it has to break even,” he said, but added that the Government will subsidise premiums for those who cannot afford them.
There were several other ideas that my other colleagues Lee Li Lian and Muhamad Faisal Manap had been calling for, including expanding the use of Medisave and allowing madrasah students to tap their Edusave accounts, which were taken up by the PM last night.
Overall, the changes made to hot-button issues of healthcare, education and housing appear promising, albeit incremental. I am glad to see that the Government is now showing a willingness to take on more of the risks and responsibilities that are rightly theirs — for example, a greater share of the healthcare burden — rather than continuing to transfer risks to individual Singaporeans and their households, as has been the trend for the previous decade or so.