Parliament: MP suggests that primary healthcare services can be exempted from GST

File photo showing nurses at work in a ward at Singapore General Hospital. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - While the Government is already absorbing the Goods and Services Tax (GST) for subsidised outpatient services at government clinics, it can go further by exempting general practitioners (GPs) from the same tax.

Dr Chia Shi-Lu, chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for health, made the suggestion on Wednesday (May 16), as one of three ideas to promote more equal access to medical services.

He also suggested expanding government insurance coverage to include pregnancy- and mental health-related conditions when hospitalisation is required; and allowing Singaporeans above retirement age to use Medisave to pay for up to 80 per cent of their subsidised outpatient treatment costs at government clinics.

On exempting primary healthcare services from GST, Dr Chia noted that while most Singaporeans still choose to visit their family doctor or GPs, rather than polyclinics, for their primary care needs, more can be done.

"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," said Dr Chia, an orthopaedic surgeon at Singapore General Hospital.

This move, he added,would apply only to primary care services and not hospital or other types of medical care.

Dr Chia also suggested that Medishield Life,which provides universal health insurance for Singaporeans, should also be expanded to cover conditions related to pregnancy and mental health as well, 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 added.

Dr Chia's last suggestion is for Singaporeans above retirement age to be allowed 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.

While the Ministry of Health has over time allowed a greater use of Medisave for medicals scans and other uses, this may still be too restrictive, he said.

The mean Medisave account balances have been increasing over the years, he added, noting that a significant number of people pass on with remaining balances in their accounts.

Such a move will likely not change matters for most elderly patients, he said.

However, it would make a difference for those with multiple or less common conditions, requiring more specialised and expensive medications, or who require more medical investigations to better manage their conditions, he added.

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