Workers’ Party MP He Ting Ru had unfairly characterised Singapore society as one that does not look after seniors when she cited an anecdote in February without giving government agencies enough time to respond to the case, said Senior Minister of State for Manpower Koh Poh Koon.
Dr Koh spoke in Parliament on Monday (July 4) after question time on the matter, which Ms He (Sengkang GRC) had first raised in a speech on Feb 28 when she made reference to seniors who asked doctors to reduce the dosages of prescribed medicines, as they could not afford the full amount.
“What does it say about us as a society?” she had asked.
At a subsequent sitting in April, Dr Koh – who was also Senior Minister of State for Health then – sought clarifications from Ms He.
She said her resident had told her during a Meet-the-People session that he no longer had the means to pay out-of-pocket for various medications prescribed for his chronic conditions, despite tapping MediSave and various subsidies.
Ms He appealed to the Central Provident Fund Board on his behalf.
On Monday, Dr Koh said he had reviewed the details of the case and was satisfied that the healthcare support system had worked as it was intended to.
He said the resident – whom he referred to as Mr H for confidentiality reasons – had access to additional avenues of support, and only thought he did not, as he had not followed his doctor’s recommendation to see a medical social worker in September 2021.
Had Mr H done so, he would have been informed of his eligibility for a 62.5 per cent subsidy on his medicines under the Medication Assistance Fund, which has now been extended to him, Dr Koh said.
Following Ms He’s appeal, Mr H was informed on March 16 that his withdrawal limit under the MediSave Chronic Disease Management Programme had also been increased from the current $700 per year to $800 per year, Dr Koh noted.
He pointed out that Ms He had referenced Mr H’s case in her Feb 28 speech just two working days after she filed the appeal on Feb 24, before the facts of the case were determined and government agencies had the chance to respond.
“The picture painted was one of a society where seniors are forced to cut down on the necessary and essential medication dosages simply because they cannot afford it. Implicit is also the suggestion that this state of affairs is due to a government that is not in touch with the ground or uncaring,” he said.
“That is not a fair characterisation. And it’s also not fair to the agencies on the ground,” he said, adding that the healthcare system is designed to cater to those in need such as the elderly and low income.
Responding, Ms He said the broader point she had wanted to make was that residents continue to feel that they have to jump through many hoops to get help, and feel “demoralised” and even “a bit humiliated” in the process.
She emphasised that she was not casting aspersions on doctors, and at no point had suggested it was the doctors who told Mr H to take fewer medicines or reduce his dosages.
“If the systems are working, if the systems are flexible, do our residents know that they are there? How do we get the message out to our residents, rather than have them feel we are uncaring, that the system doesn’t care for them, that they have to really work for it, that they have to really be humiliated? This is how they feel,” she said.
Replying, Dr Koh said it was not wrong for Ms He to appeal for and speak up on behalf of her resident.
“The point I want to make here is that as parliamentarians making speeches here, let’s be clear about the facts before we make statements in Parliament, and not to tarnish the reputation or the efforts of agencies on the ground,” he said.