The President of the Association of Women for Awareness & Research (AWARE), Ms Dana Lam-Teo, has called out to the organisation's members in protest over Health Minister Lim Hng Kiang's rebuttal to Kreta Ayer-Tanglin GRC MP Dr Lily Neo during a debate on Medisave. The below message was released through SGDaily and at the same time seen circulations through e-mails.
On Monday, 13 August, in Parliament, MP Dr Lily Neo called for Medisave fund to be extended to cover health screening procedures, in particular, screening for breast cancer. The Health Minister Lim Hng Kiang demurred, arguing that breast screenings were already heavily subsidised. Dr Neo further argued that subsidised screening at poly clinics were only applicable to women after 50, while incidences of breast cancers were high among women above age 50.
Reproduced below is part of their exchange. If you wish to read the full report, it is on http://straitstimes.asia1.com.sg/singapore/story/0,1870,63930-997826340.00.html
We draw your attention to the Minister's 'final words' at the end of the piece: "Save on one hairdo and use the money for breast screening".
It is a sweeping and blatantly unfair response to Dr Neo's effort at arguing her point and, dismisses her arguments in high-handed fashion.
It clearly illustrates a gender-based prejudice in the Minister's attitude. This attitude in Parliament where women MPs are few in numbers contributes to additional and unfair pressures on women MPs trying to make their points.
The luxury of a 'hair-do' is out of reach of many women, especially in these hard times. Perhaps the Minister moves in too exalted a circle to notice.
If you agree, we urge you to speak up and send your thoughts to the media and to the Minister's office, as soon as possible.
This is a good opportunity to demonstrate our solidarity with our women leaders and to draw attention to the need for attitudinal/cultural change among our leadership.
2. This also informs you that the AWARE website has been revamped. While it is still going through refinement, please check it out, let us know what you need on it - www.aware.org.sg.
MEDISAVE NOT TO BE USED FOR CHECK-UPS
The Straits Times
Aug 14, 2001 Tuesday
In response to MPs' calls for the fund to be made available for health screenings, the Health Minister said it was meant for hospitalisation and treatment in old age
SEVERAL backbenchers yesterday urged Health Minister Lim Hng Kiang to allow Medisave money to be used by people for annual health check-ups.
But none was more persistent than Dr Lily Neo (Kreta Ayer-Tanglin GRC), who engaged the minister in a robust exchange.
Dr Neo argued that it is better to get women to use their Medisave money for breast-cancer tests when they are younger, as early detection could save their lives, rather than to use the funds only in old age, or when they are already victims of end-stage diseases.
By that time, Medisave would be redundant.
Dr Neo stood up several times and pumped Mr Lim with question after question on the subject.
She wanted more to be done to help people pay for health screening for diseases such as breast cancer and colon cancer.
On colonoscopy for colorectal-cancer detection, another point pursued by Dr Neo, Mr Lim said that there was no conclusive proof in studies undertaken in the United States and elsewhere that mass health screening is an effective means by which to detect this problem.
But he added that when the Government was convinced that such tests work, it will allow the use of Medisave for this.
The exchange started when Mr Lim said that his ministry had decided against allowing Medisave to be used for health screening, as the money was meant for hospitalisation and medical treatment in old age.
'There are many types of health screening, of which many are not cost effective,' said Mr Lim.
And screenings, such as mammographies and Pap smears, are already affordable at polyclinics, with heavy subsidies provided.
There is also the Community Health Screening Programme for the elderly to detect conditions such as diabetes, hypertension and high blood cholesterol, for a co-payment fee of $5 of the $20 charged.
He cautioned that the Government must guard against any tendency to use the funds too liberally, as it would result in even higher rates of contributions to the Medisave Account.
Mr Lim was responding to MP Sin Boon Ann (Tampines GRC), who asked for the review of guidelines to include the use of Medisave for annual medical check-ups.
But Dr Neo was not convinced.
She questioned: 'May I ask the Minister for Health whether he agrees that prevention is better than cure?
'If it is, wouldn't he encourage more people to practise this concept by using their own funds?'
Mr Lim said that he agreed with the adage, but he added that 'screening is not a key mechanism for preventive health care'.
However, he said that he did not rule out health screening as a useful device.
'First, we have to be convinced that the health screening based on trials and evidence is effective, otherwise you undertake a major health screening and you get people all worked up, too many false results and it's not money put to good use,' he said.
Besides, cost is not the main deterrent, he noted, as the take-up rate for free mammographies is still very low.
Dr Neo retorted that subsidised mammographies at polyclinics is applicable only to women aged 50 years and above, but half of those who die from breast cancer are below 50.
While Mr Lim said he sympathised with this, his rejoinder to her was: 'Save on one hairdo and use the money for breast screening.'