SINGAPORE - A 36-year-old dentist on Wednesday (June 3) became the first person to be jailed for cheating the Government through the Community Health Assist Scheme (Chas).
Teo Eu Gene pleaded guilty to 25 counts of cheating by submitting false Chas claims for dental procedures from 2014 to 2015.
His actions caused two polyclinic groups - SingHealth Polyclinics and National Healthcare Group Polyclinics - that process and reimburse Chas claims on behalf of the Ministry of Health (MOH) to wrongfully disburse more than $18,000.
Teo was sentenced to 46 weeks' jail by District Judge Luke Tan.
Taken into consideration during sentencing were 35 charges related to submitting other false claims and falsifying medical records.
Chas, started by the MOH in 2000, lets all Singapore citizens, including those from the Pioneer and Merdeka generations, receive subsidies for medical and dental care at participating general practitioner clinics and dental clinics.
Subsidies for dental treatment range from $11 to about $260 per procedure, depending on factors such as the type of procedure and the household monthly income of the recipient.
Court documents state that Teo started Phoenix Dental Surgery, a dental chain with one clinic at Ang Mo Kio and another at Marine Parade, in 2014.
Both were participating clinics under Chas at that time, with about 60 per cent of Teo's patients paying for their treatment at the clinics using Chas.
Each clinic operated under a company that Teo and his wife were the directors and shareholders of. Both companies were struck off in 2018.
Besides treating patients, Teo also handled administrative work for Phoenix Dental Surgery. This included submitting claims under Chas for his patients through an online portal.
As part of the claims process, a participating dental clinic has to fill in clinical and financial details of the Chas-related patient visits in the online claim form, including the number and type of procedures performed as well as the cost of each procedure before subsidy.
Once the claims are approved, the polyclinics will consolidate them for payment to the respective clinics' bank account.
"Investigations revealed that Teo submitted Chas claims to the polyclinics for procedures he did not perform on his patients," Deputy Public Prosecutor V. Jesudevan told the court on Wednesday.
Teo inflated the number of procedures he had actually performed on his patients, and substantiated these claims by adding false dental procedures into his patients' medical case notes to avoid detection, the DPP added.
Court documents state that the 25 false claims submitted by Teo resulted in the polyclinics making a payout of more than $30,000 in total to the dental chain. Of these, more than $18,000 was for dental procedures that Teo did not perform.
Defence lawyer Lee Teck Leng said in written mitigation on Wednesday that Teo has reimbursed MOH more than $20,000, which exceeded the total wrongful loss suffered by the polyclinics.
In sentencing Teo to 46 weeks' jail, District Judge Tan noted that deterrence was the main consideration in cases where the cheating offences were made against a public agency which disbursed public funds, such as this case.
However, he agreed with Mr Lee that due weight should be given to Teo's plea of guilt and cooperation with the authorities during the investigation as mitigating factors.
For each offence of cheating, Teo could have been jailed for up to 10 years and fined.
Teo's former colleague at Phoenix Dental Surgery, Andy Joshua Warren, is charged with similarly cheating the polyclinics by submitting false Chas claims and falsifying medical records. His case is still pending.