THE Pioneer Generation Package will "definitively debunk" the perception that health care is unaffordable to the elderly and, just as important, it will not impose a burden on future taxpayers, said National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan yesterday.
This is because the $8 billion fund set up to pay for the package of health-care benefits will come entirely from this year's Budget.
"By setting aside this money for the pioneers... the seniors do not have to worry about their benefits disappearing because the government finances go into trouble," he said.
"Future taxpayers also do not have to worry that they would be made to bear the burden of this package... That is a very responsible way of budgeting."
Mr Khaw was speaking on the sidelines of a post-Budget dialogue with grassroots leaders at Woodlands yesterday, where he sought to share details of the Budget measures and the Pioneer Generation Package.
A key message was that the health-care measures announced last Friday will mean a lot less worry for seniors over medical costs. This group, especially the pioneers, is most concerned with health care, because some either have little in Medisave funds or no MediShield coverage.
"With this Budget, where there is greater subsidy for health care, and on top of that, the package for the pioneers, we have definitively debunked this comment that health care is not affordable," said Mr Khaw, who was formerly the health minister.
All pioneers - those aged 65 and above this year and who became citizens before 1987 - will receive more subsidies on outpatient care, Medisave top-ups and MediShield Life subsidies, with those who are older getting more. Someone who is 80 this year, will not need to pay anything for MediShield Life at all.
But seniors who missed the cut were not left out. Those aged 55 and above will get five years of annual Medisave top-ups of $100 to $200, higher Central Provident Fund contribution rates, and a one-off seniors' bonus in the form of a GST voucher.
Mr Khaw said that the Government could have given out the Pioneer Generation Package as a lump sum payment upfront of about $20,000 to each pioneer.
But spacing out the benefits over the lifetime of the person "makes a lot of practical sense", and would not be "traumatic" for those who just missed the cut-off for the package, he said.
"If I give you a big hongbao, I also have to worry about (whether) you handle the hongbao properly or not. What if you go and spend it (all)?" he said. Such things can happen, he added, as there are families who sell their flats to get cash, but spend it all in a few years and "come back to me for another flat".
Mr Khaw also said the package for pioneers has vindicated the Government to critics who said "we only emphasise growth".
"Without growth... without prudent financial management, how are we going to fund good schemes like this? The spirit may be willing but the flesh is weak if your economy is in bad shape."
At the dialogue, Mr Khaw fielded questions from some 200 grassroots leaders on the Budget.
Account manager Jessica Lim, 44, felt benefits based on housing type "penalise" five-room flat residents. Mr Khaw explained it is the most practical method but gave the assurance that those in bigger flats will get help too, saying: "There is no shortage of funds, or will."
At a separate event at the Tampines Central Community Club, Education Minister Heng Swee Keat said the Budget addressed two key concerns of Singaporeans - opportunities and assurance - that had emerged from the Our Singapore Conversation he headed.
He said it is because Singapore is in a position of strength that it is able to fund long-term programmes from the Budget surplus. "As long as we continue to be prudent, we can continue to build Singapore, to build a better society."