SINGAPORE - The number of Community Health Assist Scheme (Chas) card holders has grown by five times since 2012 to about 1.3 million Singaporeans.
In the last six years, the amount spent on the scheme has also grown by more than 10 times.
Last year alone (2017), the Government disbursed about $154 million in Chas subsidies to about 650,000 Singaporeans, said the Ministry of Health (MOH) in a statement on Thursday (Aug 23).
These numbers are likely to grow further, following Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s announcement at the National Day Rally on Sunday (Aug 19) that the scheme will be extended to all Singaporeans with chronic ailments regardless of their income.
This means that they will qualify for subsidised medical treatment, with tiered benefits based on their income levels.
The current Chas subsidises outpatient medical and dental treatments for lower-to middle-income citizen households and the Pioneer Generation, which refers to Singaporeans who were aged 16 and older in 1965.
There are now more than 1,000 Chas general practitioner (GP) clinics and 700 dental clinics islandwide.
Last year (2017), about 181,000 Chas patients made claims for chronic conditions. This amounted to about 688,000 visits to Chas GPs, an increase from 675,000 in 2016.
PM Lee on Sunday also announced the Merdeka Generation Package, which will provide greater support for the healthcare needs of Singaporeans born between 1950 and 1959, benefiting about 500,000 Singaporeans.
It will cover similar ground as the $8 billion Pioneer Generation Package, even though the benefits will not be as large.
More details of the Chas enhancements and the Merdeka Generation Package will be released next year, MOH said in its statement yesterday.
PM Lee, in his Rally speech, promised that healthcare is one of the areas in which the Government will spare no effort to help citizens.
He also mentioned Jalan Besar GRC MP Lily Neo in his speech, noting that she has seen more elderly patients at her GP clinic after Chas was introduced.
Dr Neo told The Straits Times yesterday that she is glad the numbers under Chas are rising but added that publicising it remains important.
“There’s this subsidy from the Government – why not take it and take care of one’s health better?” she said.
Dr Neo said the number of elderly patients at her Tanglin Halt clinic has at least doubled after Chas was introduced. Previously, these patients would be less willing to come for treatment due to worries about cost.
General practitioner Lee Kwok Keong, 44, who operates a clinic in Punggol, estimates that about 15 per cent to 20 per cent of his patients get Chas subsidies.
Dr Lee is happy that the Chas scheme will be enhanced.
“It is a good idea and I am fully supportive, especially as the population gets older and more are diagnosed with chronic conditions,” he said.
But he added that some might need help with administrative procedures, such as renewing their Chas cards which are usually valid for two years.
For many like resident technical officer Leong Yew Kay, 64, Chas has been helpful.
Mr Leong – who has had high blood pressure and high cholesterol since 1995 – does not pay anything to see the doctor for his chronic conditions due to Chas, saving about $390 per year.
Said Mr Leong, the sole breadwinner of his family of four: “I am happy and thankful that there are Chas subsidies as I am able to spend less on medical costs.”
Correction note: An earlier version of the story said Mr Leong's savings was $390 a month. The Agency for Integrated Care has clarified that it should be $390 a year.