Measures in place to avoid overuse of health care

A queue at Choa Chu Kang Polyclinic. -- ST FILE PHOTO: JOSEPH NAIR 
A queue at Choa Chu Kang Polyclinic. -- ST FILE PHOTO: JOSEPH NAIR 

Govt has taken steps such as requiring co-payment for services

Generous health-care subsidies for the pioneer generation and other groups of Singaporeans announced in last Friday's Budget may lead to the buffet syndrome, where people consume more than they actually need because something is free.

But the Government is well aware of this and has put in place safeguards such as co-payments to prevent the health-care sector from being overloaded, Senior Minister of State for Health Amy Khor and Senior Minister of State for Finance Josephine Teo said at a Reach post-Budget public forum yesterday.

Many among the 120 participants raised questions about the Budget's centrepiece, an $8 billion package of health-care measures to honour the efforts of Singapore's pioneer generation.

Some 450,000 Singaporeans will enjoy Medisave top-ups for life, subsidies for the new MediShield Life insurance scheme and subsidies for outpatient treatment.

Addressing a group that included working adults, students and retirees at the National Library, Mrs Teo took pains to warn about the pitfalls of over-consumption of health care, such as a strain on hospitals.

To avoid this scenario, the Government has subsidised outpatient treatment as well as hospitalisation and insurance premiums, said Dr Khor, who is also chairman of Reach, the Government's feedback arm.

Through the Community Health Assist Scheme (Chas), which subsidises care at private general practitioners and dental clinics, Singaporeans will be encouraged to turn to their family physicians or polyclinics first, instead of going straight to hospitals, she added.

Another way of tackling over-consumption is through requiring co-payment, said Dr Khor. This way, individuals will be encouraged to take personal responsibility in their choices.

Participants also raised the question of whether taxes would rise to fund social spending.

Mrs Teo, who also holds the transport portfolio, said the Government will have to think of ways to increase revenue to balance responsible spending.

Over the last few days, Reach had received more than 400 pieces of feedback about this year's Budget. More than half focused on initiatives such as the Pioneer Generation Package, health-care affordability and further help for older Singaporeans, said Dr Khor.

yuenc@sph.com.sg