CY Leung plans to set up health fund for elderly poor

Chief executive expected to reveal plan for a fund to subsidise check-ups by NGOs for the most common illnesses associated with old age

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 January, 2013, 11:51am

Helping to prevent the elderly poor from succumbing to illness is expected to be a key focus of tomorrow's policy address by Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying.

He plans to set up a fund which would offer subsidised health checks to those who are struggling financially in their old age, a government source told the Post. It is not known if the service is intended to be free to ensure the poorest elderly people in the city benefit.

The check-ups would be carried out by non-government organisations and would initially concentrate on addressing the most common illnesses associated with old age, such as hypertension and diabetes.

The government source said: "The aim of this proposal is a part of the government's plan to encourage primary health care. Early detection will be able to help with prevention."

Details such as the amount of funding, the number of elderly targeted, the frequency of check-ups and how long the scheme should last are expected to be worked out after tomorrow's announcement.

At least two NGOs expressed interest yesterday in taking on the job, but they emphasised that there should be a system to pinpoint those most in need.

United Christian Nethersole Community Health Service's executive director Alexander Law Chak-cheun said the NGO would be interested in applying for funding to take on the job. It already offers health checks for the elderly, with half the cost subsidised by the Jockey Club.

Some 7,500 people aged over 60 were able to take advantage of the service last year, paying around HK$600 each.

"But the supply is still far below the demand," said Law. "And many old people who are experiencing financial difficulty cannot afford the sum for a health review every year."

He added: "In order to prevent wasting valuable resources, I think the government should find a way to deliver the quotas to the poorest of elderly people."

Another NGO which already offers health checks for the elderly, St James' Settlement, also expressed interest in joining the plan, and highlighted how health deteriorates with age. The Hong Kong Council of Social Service, an umbrella organisation for voluntary agencies, said some 70 per cent of the elderly were suffering from at least one chronic disease.

The two NGOs said that in order to offer free health checks, the government should be looking at paying at least HK$1,000 per patient.

About 400,000 elderly are eligible for the current old-age allowance of HK$1,090 a month - known as "fruit money". It is paid to everyone over 70 and those aged 65 to 70 who are surviving on a low income.

If the government decided to offer an annual health check for all of them, it may cost as much as HK$400 million a year.

Meanwhile, it is understood that Leung is also likely to appoint a committee to review Hospital Authority operations.

It is believed the move is planned as a forerunner to implementing reforms planned by Food and Health Secretary Dr Ko Wing-man to boost co-operation between groups of hospitals and to shorten waiting lists.