Policy tweaks for more affordable health care here

SINGAPORE - Come January, Singaporeans will be able to use their Medisave to pay for the outpatient treatment of five more chronic conditions, as well as two vaccinations. Medical subsidies will be raised in some cases as well.

These details were revealed by Health Minister Gan Kim Yong yesterday during a media conference at the College of Medicine Building.

The enhancements come after policy changes in the health-care financing framework were announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the National Day Rally.

Mr Gan said the significant changes to the financing system are a signal "that the Government will do more to give Singaporeans peace of mind and greater assurance that they will not have to face challenges on their own".

"But it is also important for us to continue to take personal responsibility for our own health," he stressed.

Also starting next year, the Community Health Assist Scheme (Chas) will no longer have the current qualifying age of 40, and will be extended to people whose per capita household income is $1,800 or less, up from $1,500 currently.

This will enable more Singaporeans from low- and middle-income households to access subsidised medical and dental care at more than 800 private clinics.

To make outpatient care more affordable for Chas cardholders, the Government will roll out subsidies for treatment of the five additional chronic conditions, up to $480 each year.

Cardholders will also get subsidies for recommended screenings under the Integrated Screening Programme. They will enjoy a subsidy of $18.50, up to twice a year, for each consultation with a general practitioner for the screening.

Low- and middle-income groups can also expect charges at Specialist Outpatient Clinics in public hospitals to be lowered as more subsidies will be introduced. Details will be out in the first quarter of next year.

Minister of State for Health Amy Khor, who was also at the conference, explained: "These increases in government subsidies are all aimed at defraying the out-of-pocket (outpatient) costs for Singaporeans."

To provide all Singaporeans with greater peace of mind and assurance against large medical bills, MediShield - which had 92 per cent of the population covered as of last year - will be enhanced to become MediShield Life.

This will be achieved by raising claim limits and reducing the co-payment borne by patients.

With better benefits and bigger payouts, Mr Gan said that it is inevitable that premiums will go up.

But the Ministry of Health (MOH) will seek public feedback on MediShield Life during the fourth quarter of this year, through dialogue sessions, focus-group discussions, Web chats and online polls.

"The issues are quite complex, so we need to prepare Singaporeans for the change," said Mr Gan, adding that it could take MOH a year or more to finalise the structure MediShield Life will take.

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