Exempt primary healthcare services from GST, says MP

Patients waiting to pick up their medicine at the pharmacy in Tampines Polyclinic. Dr Chia Shi-Lu, who chairs the Government Parliamentary Committee for Health, said most Singaporeans still visit their family doctor or GPs rather than polyclinics for
Patients waiting to pick up their medicine at the pharmacy in Tampines Polyclinic. Dr Chia Shi-Lu, who chairs the Government Parliamentary Committee for Health, said most Singaporeans still visit their family doctor or GPs rather than polyclinics for their primary care needs.ST FILE PHOTO

Exempt visits to general practitioners (GPs) from the goods and services tax, suggested Dr Chia Shi-Lu (Tanjong Pagar GRC) yesterday.

He noted that GST is already absorbed for subsidised medical services in public healthcare institutions, but called for this additional step to promote more equal access to medical services.

Dr Chia, who chairs the Government Parliamentary Committee for Health, said most Singaporeans still visit their family doctor or GPs rather than polyclinics for their primary care needs.

"Removing this consumption tax from all primary healthcare services could nudge more patients back to family doctors or general practitioners for care, and encourage compliance with treatment and follow-up by reducing costs," he said.

While this may constitute a big deviation from the GST framework - which favours a flat system with later reliefs or transfers - it keeps with the intent of current policy that already absorbs GST for subsidised healthcare services, Dr Chia added.

The proposal would apply only to primary care services and not hospital or other types of medical care, said Dr Chia, an orthopaedic surgeon at the Singapore General Hospital.

He also offered two other suggestions to improve access to healthcare during the debate on the President's Address.

First, expand MediShield Life - which provides universal health insurance for Singaporeans - to cover conditions related to pregnancy complications and mental health, when hospitalisation is required.

"We have been strongly encouraging parenthood, and it would serve as greater assurance to would-be parents that the mother's medical care can be covered in the uncommon instances of complications related to the pregnancy," he said.

Second, Dr Chia mooted allowing Singaporeans above the retirement age to use Medisave to pay for up to 80 per cent of their subsidised outpatient treatment costs at government clinics - subject to a doctor's certification.

Such a move would unlikely change matters for most elderly patients, for whom the current chronic disease withdrawal limit of $400 and Flexi Medisave limit of $200 would already adequately cover 80 per cent of annual outpatient treatment costs, he said.

However, it could make a meaningful difference to those with multiple or less common conditions requiring more specialised and expensive medications, or those who need more medical checks, he added.

Apart from encouraging compliance with treatment, allowing for greater Medisave withdrawal can help a patient avoid trying the welfare route, which ultimately adds to public expenditure, he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 17, 2018, with the headline 'Exempt primary healthcare services from GST, says MP'. Print Edition | Subscribe