24 March 2019
The government should undertake an honest-to-goodness review of the Elderly Health Care Voucher Scheme. Photo: Xinhua/HKEJ
The government should undertake an honest-to-goodness review of the Elderly Health Care Voucher Scheme. Photo: Xinhua/HKEJ

How to stop abuse of elderly health care vouchers

A local pharmacy is suspected of having lured seniors into buying expensive dried seafood using their elderly health care vouchers, according to recent media reports.

It has also been reported that an optical store tried to talk old people into buying corrective glasses for presbyopia that cost more than a thousand dollars a pair, telling them they could use their health care vouchers for the purchase.

The government has laid down clear guidelines on the proper use of the vouchers, stressing that they can only be used for preventive care, curative and rehabilitative services, and not for buying products such as medication, spectacles, dried seafood or medical equipment.

Last year the Department of Health received 72 complaints concerning the use of the elderly health care vouchers, up more than 70 percent from the previous year.

Its Health Care Voucher Unit handles the complaints, first by understanding the cases and then sending staffers to investigate if necessary.

If the unit sees any sign of fraud or professional misconduct, it will refer the case to the police or other relevant agencies for follow-up. This may lead to the erring parties being disqualified from participating in the scheme.

The department may also consider recovering the money paid to the erring store or individual.

The problem is, I am really doubtful whether the current mechanism can effectively deter people from abusing the voucher scheme, which the government is currently reviewing.

In order to make sure the scheme can truly fulfill its intended purposes, it is important for the administration to subject the scheme to thorough review in terms of the variety of services it covers, its actual operation, the way the vouchers are used, its service providers and the health department’s oversight measures.

This will enable the government to introduce measures aimed at plugging the loopholes and improving the scheme.

In the meantime, members of various professional sectors involved in the scheme should scrutinize their own guidelines on the use of the elderly health care vouchers to ensure that public money is wisely spent on those who are truly in need and to foster the health of the elderly.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Feb 15

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Legislative councilor and head of nursing and health studies in the Open University of Hong Kong

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