Healthcare spending to double to $8b in five years

Healthcare spending to double to $8b in five years

SINGAPORE - Singapore's yearly healthcare spending will double from $4 billion to $8 billion over the next five years, as the government boosts capacity in the public healthcare sector and seeks to make long-term care more affordable.

To cope with rising demand, the number of beds in acute public hospitals is set to rise by 30 per cent or 1,900 beds by 2020, while the number of beds in community hospitals will more than double as another 1,800 beds are added to the mix by 2020.

At the same time, the spotlight is also turning towards longer-term care as Singaporeans live longer.

“We will more than double the capacity in long-term care services by 2020. This includes nursing homes, home-based health and social care services, day care and rehabilitation facilities, and senior activity centres,” Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said during the Budget speech yesterday.

In addition, access to polyclinics will be improved and new models of care, such as medical centres which provide specialist outpatient services, will be introduced.

To make long-term care more affordable, subsidies at community hospitals will be raised, with lower-income patients receiving a 75 per cent subsidy while those above the median income will receive a 20 to 50 per cent subsidy.

Similarly, subsidies for nursing homes, day care, rehabilitation facilities as well as home-based care packages will also be increased. Under the revised subsidy, two thirds of Singaporean households will qualify as will 80 per cent of the elderly.

“Under the portable subsidy, 65 per cent of our 236 residents are subsidised (now),” said United Medicare Centre’s executive director Lai Foong Lian. “With the increase, hopefully (more) will benefit.”

However, she added that it was still too early to say how many residents would benefit and what sort of cost-savings they would see. The 240-bed United Medicare Centre is a nursing home which offers services including low to high level care, special care and respite care. It also offers day care and rehabilitation day centre services.

While a private nursing home, it qualifies for the Ministry of Health’s portable subsidy scheme, which extends subsidies to patients who meet certain criteria.

The nursing home’s residents range in age from 34 years to 100 years old but residents are mostly made up of the elderly, with the median age at 75 years. Costs range from $2,500 to $3,500 per month.

In his speech, Mr Shanmugaratnam said that costs for a middle-income family with an elderly parent at a private nursing home would fall from $2,800 to $1,700 per month with the new subsidies.

In the case of a home-based care package, costs would come down from $1,400 to $700 per month. “Both will be significantly cheaper than before and home-based care will be about 40 per cent of the cost of nursing home care,” he went on to highlight.

GST will also be absorbed for subsidised patients seeking long-term care such as in community hospitals, nursing homes and home-care services, and this is expected to benefit 40,000 Singaporeans.

This GST-absorption already applies to Class B2 and C patients in acute hospitals. In addition, families which hire a foreign domestic helper to care for elderly family members who either have severe dementia, or are immobile and unable to care for themselves, will be given a $120 grant per month.

This is on top of the $95 concession in the foreign domestic worker levy awarded to households with elderly persons. And under a new programme called Enhancement for Active Seniors (Ease), the government will also be subsidising home modifications such as grab bars.

As part of Ease – which will benefit 130,000 households – each household with an elderly member can obtain home modifications worth $2,000 while paying no more than $250 themselves. Ease will cost $260 million over the next decade.

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