Singaporean PM Outlines Key Policy Adjustments, Revamps Medical Insurance Scheme
    2013-08-19 03:03:52     Xinhua       Web Editor: Cui

Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced a number of policy adjustments on Sunday evening in areas such as medical insurance and education, outlining a strategic shift in his approach to nation building.

Individuals must still do their best, but the community and government must do more to reduce the pressures on individuals, he said at the annual National Day Rally.

In one of the key changes announced in the evening, Lee said that the government is revamping the country's medical insurance system to move towards universal and life-long coverage.

The coverage of MediShield, a low-cost basic medical insurance scheme, will no longer stop for people who turn 90. It will also be expanded to include even those with pre-existing illnesses. The benefits will be increased so patients will pay less out of their own pockets.

There will be no choice to opt out under the scheme, which is to be renamed MediShield Life.

The premiums will likely be higher, but Lee said the government will step in to help those who cannot afford it.

He also singled out the pioneer generation, in their late 60s and above. The government will create a Pioneer Generation Package to help pay for their MediShield Life premiums.

This generation has "paved the way for us to live better lives than themselves," and "lived with fewer safety nets." "We must take care of our pioneer generation in their golden years," he said.

The Ministry of Health will be conducting a public consultation exercise before deciding on the details of the scheme.

The government is also tweaking a Community Health Assist Scheme to open it up to younger Singaporeans so that outpatient services will be more affordable for them.

The government will also increase subsidies for those with more serious conditions who need to visit Specialist Outpatient Clinics. Means-testing will be used to determine who can qualify.

Singapore's 3M medical cost financing system, comprising Medisave, Medishield and Medifund, has been known for its efficiency. Medisave is a compulsory savings system, while Medishield is a low-cost basic medical insurance scheme. Medifund, an additional safety net, is an endowment fund set up by the government to help those who are unable to pay for their medical expenses.

The system encourages people to save to cover their own medical costs while also giving those at the bottom the basic safety net. But some have said that the elderly and those at the bottom were facing pressures from the quickly rising cost of life.

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong has said earlier that the government will do more to give Singaporeans greater assurance that they will be able to receive the necessary treatment when they need it, while emphasizing that healthcare is a collective responsibility.

"Each of us must also do our part -- adopt a healthy lifestyle, save up for rainy days, spend our healthcare dollars wisely when we need to," Gan said.

Lee said on Sunday evening that the government is making three important policy shift. It will do more to give every citizen a fair share in the nation's success, raise incomes and wealth of the low-income. It will also strengthen the social safety nets. More will be done to keep the paths upwards open to all, by bringing every child to a good starting point, and ensuring that the less privileged are not shut out.

In education, primary schools will be required to reserve places for children with no prior connection. The current process gives priority to siblings and children of alumni.

Primary schools cannot be "closed institutions," Lee said.

There will also be changes to the primary school leaving examination, which is used as a key assessment tool for deciding who goes to what streams of middle school and a source of stress for students and parents.

The exams will do away with fine distinctions in the score and use bands instead. Lee said the move was to the remove the fine distinctions and ease excessive competition to chase every point.

"An A is still an A, whether you score 91 marks or 99 marks," he said, adding that it would take several years for the changes to be implemented.

He also announced that Singapore will move the airbase at Paya Lebar to Changi so that the area can be freed up for homes and industry. It will also allow the height restrictions to be removed around Paya Lebar so that more exciting plans can be developed for the eastern part of Singapore.

The current port operations at Tanjong Pagar, which is also near the downtown area, will be moved to Tuas in the western part of the island state. The area will be freed up for waterfront developments.


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