The Central Provident Fund (CPF) Board has responded to online reports regarding the case of Suriia Das and his wife Sarojini Jayapal, both 47, the latter of whom was diagnosed with advanced ovarian cancer in 2016.

The Board stressed on Fri (12 Jul) that the National University Hospital (NUH) “had offered her an open appointment date should the family decide to transfer to NUH for subsidised care” despite the poor prognosis, contrary to the couple’s assertion that they were compelled to seek treatment for Sarojini at Mount Elizabeth Hospital (MEH) because only MEH and Parkway Cancer Centre (PCC) “gave her the hope that she will survive”.

“As Mdm Sarojini chose to continue treatment at PCC, which is a private institution, there is no government subsidy. Nevertheless, Mdm Sarojini is covered by MediShield Life, which has paid out about S$60,000 for her medical and hospitalisation bills so far. She also has additional private insurance coverage under an Integrated Shield Plan,” said the CPF Board.

“Together with MediShield Life, health insurance has paid out over S$300,000 to date, covering close to 90% of her medical bills at PCC and MEH. Mdm Sarojini has also been receiving S$1,100 per month under ElderShield and ElderShield supplement plans since October 2017, amounting to about S$23,000,” added the Board.

The Board also confirmed that it had approved Sarojini’s application to withdraw all her CPF savings in her Ordinary and Special Accounts of about S$25,000 in 2017, based on PCC’s assessment that she was terminally ill, and that the couple had also withdrawn about S$9,000 from their MediSave accounts for her treatment.

“CPF Board’s Home Protection Scheme had also paid out $186,500 to fully redeem her outstanding mortgage loan.

“In sum, arising from Mdm Sarojini’s illness, CPF-allowed insurance schemes have paid out a total of about S$510,000 to date, while S$34,000 has been withdrawn from the CPF accounts of both Mdm Sarojini and Mr Suriia Das,” said the CPF Board.

The Board also reiterated its suggestion to the couple to seek government subsidised care at NUH, and to obtain financial assistance from MediFund should they struggle to pay for care at NUH.

The CPF Board’s response, however, did not appear to address the issue raised by Suriia’s lawyer M Ravi regarding the CPF Board’s alleged reluctance to allow his client to withdraw funds from his Ordinary and Special Accounts under such pressing circumstances before Sarojini turns 55, given that Sarojini is suffering from late-stage cancer and is racing against time in terms of obtaining consistent treatment, and that Suriia might be left with no other options in the event that MediFund is insufficient.

Suriia, an operation manager who earns only about S$3000 per month, previously said that his Medisave is now empty, and has had to resort to borrowing money from various other parties such as moneylenders, family, friends, and his company. He has also sought to raise funds for Sarojini’s treatment via crowdfunding online.

“Why (do) I need to keep the Ordinary and Special Accounts when my wife is suffering? My wife is everything to me. She’s my life, she’s everything I’m living for,” he said.

CPF Board savings withdrawal policy restricted to recipients aged 55 and above “mindboggling” and “irrational”: Suriia’s lawyer M Ravi

M Ravi had previously raised several concerns regarding his client’s case.

Firstly, he argued that Section 18(d) of the CPF Act allows a CPF member to transfer a portion of his fund from the Ordinary and Special accounts to his loved one’s account. However, according to the CPF Board’s policy, the money can only be transferred to someone who is 55 years of age and above.

“Now, to me, this policy is irrational. A policy which is irrational in the administrative law sense becomes unlawful.

“In other words, what the CPF Board is saying is that although they are sympathetic to the fact that Sarojini is suffering from 4th stage cancer, she has to wait until she turns 55 for Suriia to transfer the money, with the Board’s consent, from his account to Sarojini’s Medisave account.

“To me, this is mindboggling and to say the least, it rankles the soul,” said M Ravi.

The human rights lawyer also argued that the CPF Board’s policy deprives Sarojini of her right to life under Article 9 of the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore, which stipulates that “no one should be deprived of his life or liberty in accordance with the law”.

M Ravi had consequently filed a Mandatory Order to the court “to compel the CPF Board to allow” Suriia “to transfer to his wife, portion of his CPF funds to her” on Wed (10 Jul).

“Suriia also seeks a Declaration from the court that the CPF Board’s policy made pursuant to Section 18D of the CPF Act is unlawful and unconstitutional, insofar as it prohibits the transfer of funds from Suriia’s Ordinary and Special accounts to his wife Sarojini’s Medisave account,” he added.

Only Mount Elizabeth Hospital offered some reassurance of the likelihood of a fair prognosis: Sarojini, on why she and Suriia had chosen to seek treatment at a private hospital instead of public hospitals

Previously, TOC reported that Suriia had submitted a request to allow his CPF savings in his Ordinary and Special accounts to be transferred to his wife’s Medisave account to supplement their funding for her treatment at Mount Elizabeth Hospital, as seen in a video on international human rights lawyer M Ravi’s personal video channel RAVIsion, which was recently launched to educate and discuss pertinent legal and public interest issues.

However, the CPF Board had reportedly declined his request, and had instead suggested him to use his Medisave.

Sarojini explained that she had chosen to receive her treatment at Mount Elizabeth Hospital instead of at public hospitals, as only the private hospital had given her some reassurance that her condition could improve.

Noting that she and Suriia had sought a second opinion from a doctor at the National University Hospital (NUH), Sarojini said that the doctor had allegedly told her husband to “bring her somewhere nice and make her happy”, indicating that the doctors at NUH are not able to do anything to fix her condition.

“So that means they have no hope to cure me … They also claim that they have no medicine to cure me after they’ve discussed whatever medicine I’d taken at Mount E[lizabeth Hospital]. So we had no choice but to go back to Mount E[lizabeth Hospital], to the same doctor,” she lamented.

Sarojini also said that she herself no longer has CPF savings as a result of paying for her medical expenses.

“It’s all drained out because of my sickness and hospital (stays). We have utilised my husband’s Medisave as well. It has been fully utilised. Now we have no resource to pay those bills in the hospitals,” she added.