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LCQ17: Subsidies for the elderly
     Following is a question by the Hon Wu Chi-wai and a written reply by the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Dr Law Chi-kwong, in the Legislative Council today (January 24):
     The Government announced in the Policy Address delivered in January last year that the asset limits for applicants of the Old Age Living Allowance (OALA) would be relaxed (Measure 1) and a Higher OALA would be introduced (Measure 2).  While Measure 1 has been implemented since May last year, Measure 2 will be implemented in the middle of this year after the Social Welfare Department (SWD) has enhanced its computer system.  On the other hand, the Community Care Fund has, since July 3 last year, lowered the age threshold for the beneficiaries under the Elderly Dental Assistance Programme from 75 to 70 years old.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) of the progress of the work of SWD to enhance its computer system for implementing Measure 2, and the exact date for the implementation of the Measure;

(2) among the elderly persons who were receiving OALA prior to the implementation of Measure 1, of the number of those, in the Auto-conversion Phase, who will meet the eligibility criteria under Measure 2 for receiving Higher OALA, based on SWD's estimation;

(3) whether it has plans to review afresh the asset and income limits for applicants of OALA; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;

(4) of the number of applications received from July 3 to December 31 last year under the Elderly Dental Assistance Programme, and how that number compares with that in the preceding half year; whether it will consider further lowering the age threshold for the beneficiaries under the Programme to 65 years old, so as to benefit more elderly persons; and

(5) given that the Kwai Tsing District Council launched in November 2015 and October 2014 respectively two projects under the Signature Project Scheme which targeted at the residents within the district, namely the (i) dental care and (ii) optometric/ocular examination projects, whether the Government will make reference to the arrangements of these two projects and implement similar projects in all districts across the territory; if so, of the details?

     Having consulted relevant bureaux and departments, my reply is as follows:

(1) The new Computerised Social Security System (the System) of the Social Welfare Department (SWD) commenced operation in early January 2018.  The system supports the various existing social security programmes (including the Comprehensive Social Security Assistance Scheme, the existing Old Age Living Allowance (OALA; which will be renamed as Normal OALA), the Old Age Allowance, etc.).  SWD is conducting further system enhancements and testing, and other preparations (e.g. publicity and finalising implementation procedures) so as to implement the Higher OALA.
     SWD anticipates rolling out the Higher OALA in June 2018, with retrospective effect from May 1, 2017.  The Government plans to brief the Panel on Welfare Services of the Legislative Council on the implementation details of the Higher OALA in February 2018.
(2) and (3)  SWD has relaxed the asset limits of the Normal OALA (Note) on May 1, 2017 to benefit more elderly persons with financial needs.  SWD also plans to implement the Higher OALA in June 2018.  The relevant amounts (i.e. the rates of allowances, and the monthly income and asset limits) of the two allowances mentioned above will be adjusted annually on February 1 in accordance with the established mechanism.  On February 1, 2018, SWD will make the following adjustments to the two allowances:
  Monthly allowance Asset limits Monthly income limits
Normal OALA Current level $2,565 Elderly singletons: $329,000
Elderly couples: $499,000
Elderly singletons: $7,750
Elderly couples: $12,620
Level with effect from February 1, 2018 $2,600 Elderly singletons: $334,000
Elderly couples: $506,000
Elderly singletons: $7,820
Elderly couples: $12,770
Higher OALA Current level $3,435 Elderly singletons: $144,000
Elderly couples: $218,000
Elderly singletons: $7,750
Elderly couples: $12,620
Level with effect from February 1, 2018 $3,485 Elderly singletons: $146,000
Elderly couples: $221,000
Elderly singletons: $7,820
Elderly couples: $12,770

     As at end-December 2017, there were about 470 000 Normal OALA recipients.  According to latest records (including the asset information declared by the Normal OALA recipients), it is estimated that about 80 per cent of the existing Normal OALA recipients would be eligible for the Higher OALA.
(4) According to the information provided by the Food and Health Bureau (FHB), the Community Care Fund (CCF) launched the Elderly Dental Assistance Programme on September 24, 2012 to provide free removable dentures and related dental services (including x-ray examination, scaling and polishing, fillings as well as tooth extractions) for low-income elderly persons who are users of the home care service or home help service schemes subvented by SWD.  To enable more financially needy elderly persons to benefit from the programme, it was expanded in phases on September 1, 2015, October 3, 2016 and July 3, 2017 to cover elderly persons who are OALA recipients aged 80 or above, 75 or above and 70 or above respectively.  The programme received 11 261 applications from July 3 to December 31, 2017 and 4 881 applications for its preceding half year from January 1 to July 2, 2017. 
     FHB advised that, having regard to the progress of implementation and the overall situation, the programme will be further expanded to cover OALA recipients aged 65 or above at an appropriate juncture.

(5) According to information provided by the Home Affairs Department, as stated in the 2013 Policy Address, the Government earmarked a one-off allocation of $100 million for each district to initiate one to two projects under the Signature Project Scheme (SPS) to address local needs.  All SPS projects are advocated and decided by district councils (DCs).  DCs are also responsible for spearheading their implementation, including the conduct of district consultations, preparing implementation plans, monitoring project progress and assessing project effectiveness.
     The Kwai Tsing DC adopted "Enhancement of Community Healthcare Services" as the theme of its SPS.  The Kwai Tsing DC had conducted extensive consultations with local residents and organisations and open discussions before taking forward the "Enhancement of Community Healthcare".  The major services included the provision of ocular health care service and dental care service to eligible residents in the Kwai Tsing District, which were launched in January 2015 and March 2016 respectively.  Other services included seasonal influenza vaccination, health education seminars, etc.  The services have been well-received by local residents since their launch.
     Separately, according to information provided by FHB, general dental care services are mainly provided by the private sector and non-governmental organisations.  When allocating limited public resources, the Government has to accord priority to emergency dental services for the public, and take care of those people with special needs, including elderly persons with financial difficulties.  As such, the Government has in recent years launched a series of initiatives to provide dental care support to low-income elderly persons with special needs, including the Outreach Dental Care Programme for the Elderly and the CCF Elderly Dental Assistance Programme mentioned in part (4) above.
     The 18 Elderly Health Centres established under the Department of Health provide integrated primary health care services including health assessment, health counselling, medical treatment and health education for elderly members aged 65 or above.  The clinical services include eye and vision assessment as well as provision of relevant health advice.  The Elderly Health Centres will refer elderly persons with eye problems to specialist outpatient clinics of the Hospital Authority for follow-up as necessary.
     FHB launched the Elderly Health Care Voucher (EHV) Pilot Scheme in 2009 to subsidise Hong Kong elderly persons aged 70 or above to use private primary care services.  The EHV Scheme enables elderly persons to choose private healthcare services that best suit their needs, including dental and optometric services.  Since 2014, the EHV Scheme has been converted into a recurrent programme and the annual voucher amount for each eligible elderly person has been increased to $2,000.  Moreover, the eligibility age for the EHV Scheme has been lowered from 70 to 65 since July 1, 2017 to benefit more elderly persons.
     In addition, FHB is proactively preparing for the launch of the District Health Centre Pilot Project in the Kwai Tsing District in two years' time.  The planned district health centre, with funding from the Government, will enhance public awareness of disease prevention and its ability in self-management of health through public-private partnership, and provide support for the chronically ill.  Having regard to the needs of the district, the centre will make use of local networks to procure services from service providers and allied health professionals in the district.
Note: The asset limit for elderly singletons was raised from $225,000 to $329,000; and that for elderly couples was raised from $341,000 to $499,000.
Ends/Wednesday, January 24, 2018
Issued at HKT 17:10
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