More families to get health subsidies

SINGAPORE - From Friday, more people will get to enjoy subsidies at private clinics under the Community Health Assist Scheme (CHAS), after the qualifying household income was raised by 20 per cent.

The monthly income cap for each family member is now $1,800 instead of the previous $1,500. But this is just the start.

About half of all Singaporeans will qualify for the scheme, which is currently for those aged 40 and above, when the age floor is done away with in January.

From next year, all CHAS cardholders will also get a 100 per cent subsidy when they go for health screenings to check for any of six conditions, including diabetes and cervical cancer.

They will also receive subsidies for five more chronic conditions, including Parkinson's disease and chronic kidney illness.

In addition, Medisave will be allowed to cover outpatient treatments for these five conditions from January.

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong announced all this on Thursday, when he fleshed out the changes first announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in his National Day Rally speech.

These changes, Mr Gan said, reflect a significant shift in the Government's approach to national health-care financing as it responds to Singaporeans' "strong desire for greater peace of mind" over medical bills.

While personal responsibility remains a core principle, the Government will now take on a larger share of the cost, he explained.

"The Government will do more," he promised, "to give Singaporeans peace of mind, greater assurance that they would not have to face this health-care risk on their own."

The changes will take over a year to roll out, and some of them will depend on public feedback to be gathered in dialogues set to start some time in the last quarter of this year.

But essentially, it will mean a lower cash outlay for lower- and middle-income families when it comes to outpatient treatment and big hospital bills, he said.

Under the new national health insurance plan, MediShield Life, which he hopes to implement by 2015, Singaporeans can expect a bigger part of their hospital bills to be taken care of, said Mr Gan.

At Thursday's press conference, he gave details on the changes to be implemented first - aimed at lowering out-of- pocket expense for outpatient treatment.

With immediate effect, those aged 40 and above, from households earning $1,800 or less monthly for each family member, will be eligible for the CHAS card, which lets patients get subsidised treatment at more than 800 private medical and dental clinics. The card comes in two colours - blue and orange.

A third of households will qualify for the blue card, which provides for higher subsidies, after its income cap was increased to $1,100 from $900. Those who qualify but currently hold the orange card will need to re-apply.

From next year, even wealthier households will get help to pay for chronic treatments, with Medisave covering five more chronic conditions, bringing the total to 16.

Minister of State Amy Khor said this will cover 90 per cent of chronic ailments seen by general practitioners. She added that Medisave use may be expanded further as part of an ongoing review.

But she sounded a note of caution, saying that people must retain enough in their Medisave to pay for health insurance and medical expenses after they retire.

When queried, Mr Gan admitted that Medisave contributions will have to go up to take into account its wider use. The increase, however, will not be immediate, but will take place when the economy is better.

salma@sph.com.sg


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