Singapore's elderly citizens flocked to the doctor's or dentist's yesterday, brandishing their new red-and-white cards as subsidies at clinics islandwide kicked in for 450,000 pioneer generation members.
Medical and dental chains reported at least a 30 per cent increase in the number of seniors who sought treatment.
Many elderly people who went to their neighbourhood polyclinics were aware that they could use the Pioneer Generation (PG) cards for the first time and took them along. Some had even postponed treatment last week to take advantage of the subsidies.
"My daughter wanted to bring me here on Friday as I was feverish, but I wanted to wait till today to get the discount," said retiree Ang W.F., 82.
PG card holders, who are Singaporeans aged 65 or older this year, can get subsidies such as an extra 50 per cent off services and drugs which are already heavily subsidised. This is available at all polyclinics and specialist outpatient clinics in public hospitals.
For the more than 1,100 participating general practitioner (GP) and dental clinics, the discounts include getting $28.50 off bills for common ailments such as cough and cold.
Most patients who sought treatment yesterday were showing up for their regular check-ups, based on a Straits Times check with 100 elderly patients from more than 10 polyclinics.
Others, such as Mr Chen Tek Hsin, were drawn in by the subsidies to seek treatment they would otherwise not have had. The 82-year-old retiree had his teeth cleaned for the first time in 20 years by a dentist.
Besides common and chronic illnesses, the PG card subsidies also cover preventive treatment such as scaling and polishing.
Polyclinics, GPs and dental clinics such as Parkway Shenton and Q&M Dental Group geared up to handle the increased volume by having more staff or getting their IT database ready to identify eligible patients.
Yet there were teething problems on the ground. Some questioned why they were not asked to produce their PG cards, fearing that they might be missing out on the discounts.
"When you go to the supermarket, the cashier always asks you if you have a PAssion card, so why can't the polyclinics do the same with this PG card?" asked retiree Michael Lee, 66, referring to the People's Association's privilege card.
The Health Ministry said those who visit polyclinics and specialist outpatient clinics in public hospitals do not need to produce the card to enjoy the discounts, but those who go to GPs and dental clinics still have to.
Others were confused over the subsidies to which the card entitles them. Unlike the 50 per cent off subsidies for services, the discounts on medication start only in January next year.
"I ran out of medicine two days ago so I waited till today, but it's funny that the subsidies don't start on the same day," said former businessman Steven Ang, 70.
Additional reporting by Samantha Boh, Marissa Lee and Tjoa Shze Hui