Other People’s Money 2
This letter is from the ST Online Forum yesterday, but I thought I would comment on it relation to today’s ‘Clues for the Clueless’.
Nov 9, 2005
Govt should relook at the means test for medical subsidy
My mom suffered three strokes and was bedridden since 2002. Ever since her discharge from the hospital, Touch Home Care (THC) has been taking care of her. It started with free service provided by THC.
Beginning this year, I had to pay for each visit ie. $29 for a nurse and $88 for a doctor. When the nurse comes, she checks my mom's blood pressure, cholesterol and conduct other tests.
When the doctor comes, it is a routine check on my mom's heartbeat etc and he writes a prescription for her medication. The nurse and doctor rotate to come once every month. So on average I have to fork out $58.50 per visit per month.
But starting next year, I have to pay a monthly premium of $148 regardless of the number of visits. This is because THC has implemented a new fee structure and I failed the means test. So I am not entitled to any form of subsidy, which comes directly from the government.
Why I failed the means test? It's because my family head-count consists of only two members ie. my mom and I. I am the only child in the family.
I am earning over $2,000 a month. I hired a maid to look after my mom full-time. Therefore I am not entitled to any subsidy. Subsidy provision is only for those who pass the means test with $750 and below per head. In this case, my means test is $1,000 per head.
It does not take into consideration my hiring a full-time maid to look after my mom. This costs me $300 (salary) + $200 (levy). It does not take into consideration that my mom has to wear adult diapers, which cost $100 a month.
It does not take into consideration that my mom's medication costs $35 a month. It does not take into consideration the daily expenses incurred ie. three meals a day for my mom and the maid, about $10 a day or $300 a month.
How about my own personal expenses? I have to work, eat and pay for transportation, insurance, etc. Or maybe I should not work, just so that I can pass the means test to enjoy the subsidy from the government.
Sure, I can look after my mom without the maid. But without any income, who's going to pay for my mom's diapers, medicines, food, etc? Can the government provide these necessities as well?
On one hand, our government encourages its citizens to work even beyond retirement age. Our government also encourages us to stay with our parents to help look after them in their old age.
Does this include sending our aged parents to an old folks home when they are no longer of help to the family and considered 'useless' when they are helpless? Is this the only solution?
Can we as their children provide some form of filial piety at home instead of sending them to a lonely and cold home? Even if we choose to send them to a home, it doesn't come cheap. Again, depending on the means test, we may have to pay between $1,500 and $2,500 a month.
So what is this means test all about? To turn away people who may really need the government's aid? Is this a fair measure? Maybe the government should weigh the means test on a case-by-case basis. Or maybe the government is inflexible about handing out subsidies?
I guess my family is not the only one affected by the new fee structure implemented by THC. But then, other families may not voice their woes like I do.
Ever since I received the 'service agreement' letter from THC, I have been calling many 'home medical service providers' for help. Most of them were helpful in answering my queries but they were of no assistance.
That's because my mom's case is under THC, and THC is the only community provider in the precinct which my family resides. Given no choice, I have to continue with THC, which I feel is unjustifiable.
It's not because of the money problem, but I feel 'cornered'. If I do not continue with THC, my mom would not be able to get her medicines unless I 'force' her to go to a (polyclinic). In this case, I have to pay for the ambulance service to fetch my mom there and back.
Or maybe my mom should just forget about taking any medicine if she thinks it is becoming too troublesome, which she might just do. But being filial, being the only child, I have to continue providing my mom the best when she is alive and it's not fair for her to suffer.
Probably that's why there is this saying that goes: 'You can die here but cannot fall sick.' Dying is so easy and it is a one-off payment, whereas when one falls ill, the amount to spend is without limit.
I sincerely hope the government will relook at the means test. Is this really the fairest way to measure one's wealth? I wonder.
Wendy Teo Whee Chin (Miss)
Ms Teo’s situation is as she said by no means unique, and I hope she gets the help she needs.
Means Testing is by no means perfect, and letters like hers highlight the deficiencies should be taken seriously by the policy-makers. The letter must also have made many readers aware of this entity called 'Means Testing'. Being aware of it is the first step towards understanding it and having an opinion on whether it should exist, and if so in what form.
However, I take issue with the tone of her letter in the form that it appeared. (The editors are sometimes over-enthusiastic in their duties.)
She gives no word of thanks for all the time when she and her mother had received the care free of charge, and in fact dismisses the doctors’ and nurses’ visits as 'routine', which she only accepted because she wanted the medication. The polyclinic, which also provides subsidised healthcare, is a place so unpalatable to her that her mother has to be ‘forced’ to go to.
Ms Teo does not ask why THC is the only service available in her precinct. The answer is THC is part of a not-for-profit voluntary welfare organisation. With every visit they make, they LOSE MONEY! Believe me, if they were making money, there would be more than one service vying for her customs. The money that funds such community services comes from somewhere, and in this case it’s donations and grants. One should be thankful for receiving even if it doesn’t cover all one needs.
It's one thing to criticise and question policies (in fact I think we all should), but another to dismiss the efforts of voluntary welfare organisations and the men and women who work in them, some of who could actually command a higher salary elsewhere but choose to do this work instead.
Charity is not an entitlement.
(angry doc is not affiliated with Touch Community Services)