How “severely disabled” a person should become in order he can withdraw cash from own CPF?

It was reported in the news today (4 Jul) that CPF members can now withdraw money from their own CPF, but only if they are "severely disabled" and are at least 30 years old.

Apparently, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong has taken pity on the "severely disabled" Singaporeans and decided to allow them to withdraw a monthly cash from their own CPF Medisave account for subsistence.

He told the media, "When a Singaporean is facing severe disability and, at the same time, facing financial difficulties, I feel that we can afford to be more flexible."

Those with at least $5,000 in their Medisave accounts will be able to withdraw $50 a month while those with $20,000 or more will be allowed to withdraw $200 a month.

Fifty dollars a month is roughly equivalent to buying 20 packets of chicken rice for a month at $2.50 per packet. Some netizens have commented that a packet of chicken rice now costs $3 in most hawker centres. In that case, $50 would only buy the person about 16 packets of chicken rice a month.

Defining severe disability

So, to withdraw this $50 or $200 a month from one own savings in one's CPF Medisave account, how "disabled" a person should become in order to qualify?

According to Ministry of Health's website, it defines "severe disability” as the inability of an individual to perform three or more Activities of Daily Living (ADLs) independently. This means that the individual will require the physical assistance of another person for the ADL.

It defines the following ADLs:

1. Washing - The ability to wash in the bath or shower (including getting into and out of the bath or shower) or wash by other means.

2. Dressing - The ability to put on, take off, secure and unfasten all garments and, as appropriate, any braces, artificial limbs or other surgical or medical appliances.

3. Feeding - The ability to feed oneself food after it has been prepared and made available.

4. Toileting - The ability to use the lavatory or manage bowel and bladder function through the use of protective undergarments or surgical appliances if appropriate.

5. Walking or Moving Around - The ability to move indoors from room to room on level surfaces.

6. Transferring - The ability to move from a bed to an upright chair or wheelchair, and vice versa.

However, the assessment of whether a "severely disabled" person can do any of the above ADLs seem to be subjective, depending on the insurance company. Recently, TOC reported a case of a blind person on ElderShield being rejected by NTUC Income for not "severely disabled" enough.

Blind person not "severely disabled" enough

Mr Teo, a member of public shared his story with TOC. He is medically certified to be blind, with loss of vision in his right eye and seeing only shadows in his left. But NTUC Income deemed that Mr Teo is able to carry out ADLs independently.

According to a doctor's observation of Mr Teo on 24 March 2015, it is said that Mr Teo:

  1. Need supervision to prevent falls and tripping during bathing
  2. Will need assistance to know which side to put on for T-shirts and shorts.
  3. Need food preparation. Need scooping as he cannot see.
  4. Need wife to check if properly clean after wiping and after passing motion.
  5. Need constant supervision at home when moving.

The doctor specifically wrote in the assessment form that it is his opinion that Mr Teo's disability of ADLs commenced in Dec 2014. However, NTUC Income wrote back to Mr Teo on 8 April 2015, stating that he did not qualify for the benefits as he is still able to perform more than three ADLs.

To add irony to Mr Teo's situation, he managed to claim permanent disability under his other insurance plans – three in total – except for Eldershield which claims to provide for one's future long-term care needs.

Mr Teo said, "I think this ElderShield is a scam. Normal disability only cannot claim - only severe disability - must be more like a vegetable in order to claim. What kind of disability - most people not sure - many think can claim, but 2 legs chopped off also cannot."

So while it is most appreciated that there will be those who will be allowed to withdraw a monthly cash payout from their own CPF Medisave account for subsistence but it is still questionable as to how many will qualify under the definition of "severely disabled"