Higher drug subsidies a welcome boon for the new year

Mr Poh Khuat, 75, and his wife, Madam Kang Ngo Hwee, 77, say the enhanced medication subsidies will help keep their expenses down.
Mr Poh Khuat, 75, and his wife, Madam Kang Ngo Hwee, 77, say the enhanced medication subsidies will help keep their expenses down.ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Retired hawker Poh Khuat and his wife, Madam Kang Ngo Hwee, consulted a doctor at Outram Polyclinic on Dec 27. But the elderly couple waited until yesterday to collect their medication for chronic conditions such as high cholesterol and leg pain.

They were among some Singaporeans who delayed getting medicines from polyclinics or subsidised Specialist Outpatient Clinics (SOCs) at public hospitals, so they could enjoy the higher drug subsidies that began on Thursday.

Lower- to middle-income patients with Community Health Assist Scheme (Chas) cards now get a 75 per cent discount on subsidised medicine at polyclinics or subsidised SOCs. Those from the Pioneer Generation (PG) - Singaporeans aged 65 or above last year and who became citizens before 1987 - get an extra 50 per cent.

Last year, all Singaporeans got at least 50 per cent off subsidised medication at polyclinics and subsidised SOCs. Those 65 or older, or under 18, might get more.

With the higher subsidies, Mr Poh, 75, saw $10 knocked off his $74.30 bill. After including other government subsidies that he qualifies for, he paid only $9.25.

"Our children give us money, but they have their own children to support, and we do not want to be a burden," he said. "We try not to spend more than $12 a day, so this subsidy really helps."

Of the 100 patients The Straits Times spoke to yesterday, most said they learnt about the additional subsidies from newspapers or television or by word of mouth.

Not many postponed collecting their medication just to take advantage of the higher subsidies. Some were not aware of the new subsidies, but were pleasantly surprised to get the discounts.

"I was just here to see a doctor," said Mr Boh Jee Buay, 67. "But new discounts are always welcome."

Last September, when PG subsidies for medical services such as doctor's consultations started, senior citizens rushed to doctors or dentists, brandishing their new PG cards to get steep discounts. Private medical and dental chains reported a 30 per cent rise in the number of elderly patients who sought treatment on day one.

Yesterday, after the new subsidies started, polyclinics said they saw only a slight increase, noting that more time would be needed to assess demand. The situation was similar at subsidised SOCs in Singapore General Hospital and Tan Tock Seng Hospital.

"As the first day coincided with the post-New Year holiday, when crowds were heavy, any rise in attendance might not have been due solely to enhancements in drug subsidies," said National Healthcare Group Polyclinics.

To communicate the changes, polyclinics and subsidised SOCs trained staff beforehand.

Subsidies for Singaporeans and the Pioneer Generation apply to subsidised medication prescribed at subsidised SOCs and polyclinics. Such medications fall under the Ministry of Health's Standard Drug List or Medication Assistance Fund (MAF), and have been assessed to be cost-effective and essential for treatment.

The MAF was enhanced in 2011 to provide subsidies to eligible patients who need non-standard drugs assessed by clinical review panels of public health-care institutions to be clinically necessary and appropriate for treatment. Patients needing financial aid can approach the institution's staff.

kashc@sph.com.sg

Additional reporting by Danson Cheong and Kok Xing Hui