Budget debate: S'pore to revamp healthcare subsidy system for more targeted support

Subsidies are now 50 per cent to 65 per cent in B2 class, and 65 per cent to 80 per cent in C class. The change will mean higher subsidies for lower-income patients who opt for B2 class, and lower subsidies for higher-income patients in C class.
Subsidies are now 50 per cent to 65 per cent in B2 class, and 65 per cent to 80 per cent in C class. The change will mean higher subsidies for lower-income patients who opt for B2 class, and lower subsidies for higher-income patients in C class. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - The healthcare subsidy system is being revamped to ensure that those who need financial help the most get more of it.

This comes with the rising consumption of healthcare services as the population ages, and Singapore looking to strengthen its healthcare system.

The Government's share of healthcare spending has been going up - from 40 per cent in 2013 to 46 per cent in 2018. And it will continue to rise.

To ensure that people at the lowest income levels get the help that they need to improve their health outcomes, the Ministry of Health (MOH) will channel more money to them.

To achieve this, it will do a major revamp of the public sector subsidy structure by the middle of next year that will affect inpatient and outpatient subsidies. There will be changes to the subsidies in acute and community hospitals, specialist outpatient clinics and for day surgery.

Speaking at the debate on his ministry's expenditure, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said: "We have to be prudent in how we allocate limited resources to ensure that the support we provide is more targeted to benefit those with greater need."

There will be just one subsidy range for the two subsidised ward classes - B2 and C - that will go from 50 per cent to 80 per cent.

The change will mean higher subsidies for lower income patients who opt for B2 class, and lower subsidies for higher income patients in C class.

Subsidies for day surgery will follow the same format.

The lowest quintile already gets the lion's share of subsidies - $1.6 billion, or 37 per cent, in 2018.

Changes to the subsidy system will further tilt the financial help in their favour.

Hospital subsidies will change from being based on an individual's income to per capita household income to reflect the number of people dependent on that person's income.

Second Minister for Health Masagos Zulkifli outlined how healthcare will be transformed "to become a proactive and inclusive care system" by addressing health needs across a person's life.

To help the young "start well and achieve their fullest potential", the ministry will develop a child and maternal health and well-being strategy that will span pre-conception to 18 years of age.

At the other end of the spectrum, $180 million has been set aside to roll out more than 200 eldercare centres that will have active ageing programmes, befriending and care services.

Apart from the infrastructure that is being rolled out, attention has also been focused on healthcare professionals.

Senior Minister of State for Health Koh Poh Koon said that healthcare professionals "are key in improving patient care and outcomes".

They have played an important role in the fight against Covid-19, with many suspending their annual leave because of the high call for manpower, he said.

"We are cognisant that salaries play a key role in the attraction and retention of staff," Dr Koh said as he announced that nurses in the public sector will get a 5 per cent to 14 per cent pay rise over the next two years.

After more than a year combating Covid-19, Singapore will also improve its preparedness for future health crises.

Spelling this out, Dr Janil Puthucheary, Senior Minister of State for Health, said: "We will enhance our surveillance and response capabilities by leveraging new technologies to enable us to more effectively consolidate, analyse and generate insights from large amounts of data."

Aside from clinical teams, he said there is also a need for other experts such as epidemiologists, data scientists and statisticians.

Research and development capabilities will be strengthened to "prevent, prepare for and respond to future public health crises", he added.