With five clinics probed for cheating the Government by making claims for treatments that were not done, the Health Minister has spoken out to assure the public that steps have been taken to improve the transparency of medical billing.
Patients who have gone to a Community Health Assist Scheme (Chas) clinic this year would have noticed that their receipts now have an itemised breakdown of the treatment fees and subsidies received, said Mr Gan Kim Yong. Chas clinics have also received an updated set of guidelines on claims criteria.
"We hope that such improvements will help to make clinic charges and Chas subsidies clearer to patients and doctors," said Mr Gan at a Chas carnival yesterday.
It is the first time he has alluded to the issue since a rash of Chas fraud cases was uncovered. Two dental clinics were suspended from Chas last July for possible fraud. The Sunday Times reported yesterday that both clinics have since closed.
Last Tuesday, three general practitioner (GP) clinics were called out for similar concerns. They face suspension from Chas if the doctors cannot give "satisfactory" explanations for their actions within two weeks.
Established in 2012 after the old Primary Care Partnership Scheme was renamed Chas, the scheme subsidises seniors and low-income Singaporeans whose per capita monthly household income is $1,800 or less for treatments at private medical and dental clinics.
Clinics will then file the claims with the Ministry of Health.
Between 2013 and 2015, the ministry received about 300 complaints, mostly about incorrect billing or high fees.
To tighten the system, all Chas clinics were made to give patients itemised bills starting this year.
This is crucial because a large sum of money is involved. Mr Gan said yesterday that Chas subsidies amounted to $169 million last year, up from $167 million in 2015.
The money went to subsidies for some 685,000 Singaporeans. Some 1.3 million Singaporeans are now eligible for Chas, and there are about 1,650 Chas GP and dental clinics.
For pioneers who get the highest subsidy, Chas pays up to $28.50 when they see a GP for common problems, and as much as $135 for complex chronic ailments.
Senior programme coordinator Lee Yee Theng's family has seen their medical bills drop since they began receiving Chas subsidies five years ago. Each visit to manage her high blood pressure could cost $50, for instance, but Ms Lee, 43, does not pay anything after subsidies.
She said: "I still pay for (treatment of) the common cough and flu, but there are subsidies for chronic illnesses, which is very helpful because such diseases are long term. The money I save can be used for household expenses instead."