More to get health care subsidies

PHOTO: More to get health care subsidies

SINGAPORE - In a vital review of its healthcare system, the Ministry of Health (MOH) will inject $73 million into a series of subsidies to make medication and outpatient care affordable for more Singaporeans.

Set to be rolled out by the first quarter of next year, the initiatives will not only benefit the poor, the elderly and the disabled, but also help middle- and low-income Singaporeans.

The details were outlined by Health Minister Gan Kim Yong yesterday at a post-National Day Rally press conference.

The most significant change is in the qualifying criteria for the Primary Care Partnership Scheme. The scheme, which lets the elderly and the disabled see general practitioners (GPs) at polyclinic rates, will see its income ceiling raised from $800 to $1,500 per capita monthly household income. The age criterion will be lowered from 65 to 40 years old.

The revamp will benefit potentially 710,000 people, a huge jump from the current 87,000 eligible. Mr Gan said that such a move will allow patients to tap on private GPs' resources and lessen the load on polyclinics.

Diabetes patient Sim Siew Ngoh, 49, will qualify for the scheme, along with her 80-yearold mother who has diabetes and hypertension. Ms Sim, who looks after her mother, said: "It will help lighten my financial load."

Dr Pauline Neow, a GP at Mei Ling Clinic in Queenstown, said that many of her patients who were outside the criteria brackets will benefit from the tweak. She said: "I expect a lot more patients to go on the scheme. They need not take time off work to visit polyclinics and can visit GPs in the evenings at subsidised rates."

Mr Gan hopes the new subsidies will help patients better manage chronic diseases, and thus indirectly ease hospitals' bed crunch. He said: "If we minimise the need to hospitalise chronic patients, we will have more capacity to cater to those who really need the beds."

Another change involves the Medisave annual withdrawal limit for outpatient expenses: It will be raised from $300 to $400. The scheme will be renamed Medisave400.

Psychiatrist Marcus Tan, who operates a private clinic that allows patients to use Medisave, said: "The $400 will give patients more mileage, but a higher amount is probably needed for more adequate coverage."

Though Mr Gan believes the new scheme will be sufficient for the majority of the population, he said: "We will monitor the situation, and we will see if there is a need to adjust it further... Medisave400 is not cast in stone."

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