About 7,700 people who applied for or renewed their Community Health Assist Scheme (Chas) cards in September and October last year received inaccurate healthcare subsidies due to a computer system error.
The 1,300 who received less than they should have will be reimbursed. The rest who received more subsidy than they qualified for will not have to return the money, said the Ministry of Health (MOH) yesterday, when it revealed how the computer system, administered by NCS, had miscalculated the means-test results.
The 7,700 make up about 17 per cent of people who made applications and renewals from Sept 18 to Oct 10 last year.
The bungle was due to an "isolated case of human error" said NCS, resulting in an incorrect version of a software being deployed during a system migration exercise.
The MOH said the means-test and subsidy tiers for the affected individuals were corrected by yesterday. Those affected are not required to take any action for now.
The total amount to be reimbursed is estimated to be $400,000.
As for the other 6,400 individuals who received higher subsidies than they qualified for - estimated to be $2 million - they would not have to return the money.
HOW THE ERROR UNFOLDED
Sept 16, 2018: IT firm NCS, when migrating the means-test system, which calculates how much subsidy a patient gets, to another government data centre, uses the wrong version of a software file.
Sept 24: The first means-test discrepancy is detected by the
Community Health Assist Scheme (Chas) processing team. It reports this to NCS, which begins investigations.
Oct 10: NCS team yet to pinpoint cause of the discrepancy. But it also investigates an unrelated slow performance issue, which is also due to the software version being wrong. The software version is fixed.
Oct 9 to Nov 2: Five more cases of inaccurate means-test results are detected. NCS confirms on Nov 29 this is down to the software version issue. While means testing operates correctly after the Oct 10 fix, results that were compromised from Sept 18 to Oct 10 have yet to be corrected. The Ministry of Health (MOH) is informed.
Nov 29 to Dec 5: MOH and NCS assess the impact of the errors and find that thousands of individuals are affected.
Jan 14, 2019: The correct subsidy tiers are given to MOH.
Jan 18: MOH and NCS correct the means-test results for individuals whose incorrect records have not been used by non-Chas schemes. This helps to contain the impact.
Feb 10: The number of unique individuals is determined.
Feb 16: Correct subsidy levels for all affected individuals are restored. The authorities begin contacting those affected, and arrange for reimbursements.
SOURCE: MOH, NCS
"MOH intends to recover from NCS the costs and expenses incurred as a result of this incident, as allowed for under our contract," the MOH said.
Individuals who are eligible for a Chas card of a higher subsidy tier can expect to receive the correct cards next month.
Those who should have received the orange Chas card but received a blue one due to the error can continue using it for the rest of the card's validity, which is for two years.
The blue card entitles its users to generally higher subsidies.
The means-test system calculates the healthcare subsidies that individuals are eligible for based on their income information.
Healthcare subsidies are means-tested so that those from lower-income households will receive greater financial support.
The MOH said that it first detected a discrepancy in the means-test results of a Chas card holder on Sept 24 last year.
The Chas processing team alerted NCS immediately, but the issue was initially attributed to intermittent network connection problems.
Between Oct 9 and Nov 2 last year, five more cases were detected. A more thorough investigation was launched.
Out of the five, three were appeals made by individuals for a review of their Chas subsidy tier.
Last November, NCS traced the cause of the discrepancies to a software version issue on a server used by the means-test system.
This happened when the system was migrated to another government data centre last September.
Hence, the means-test results were computed without the requisite income information, the MOH said.
NCS also found that its deployment team had, in fact, fixed the software version issue earlier on Oct 10 last year, in response to an unrelated slow performance issue.
This prevented further cases of errors from happening, but failed to correct the means-test results that were compromised from Sept 18 to Oct 10.
NCS deputy chief executive Ng Kuo Pin said the firm has tightened its system deployment processes, including putting in additional safeguards to prevent any recurrence.
"As a vendor, we are accountable to MOH, our client, and we regret the error and inconvenience caused to our fellow Singaporeans,"he said.
Since December, MOH has worked with NCS to establish the extent of the impact of the error.
It has also determined the correct subsidy tiers for each individual under the different services and schemes.
The MOH said that its final assessment was completed on Jan 14.
It will now work with grant scheme administrators and healthcare institutions to finalise the remedial action plans, including how affected individuals are to be informed and reimbursed.
Service providers and scheme administrators will progressively inform affected individuals and arrange reimbursements where applicable, with this process to be completed by the middle of next month.
The ministry said it takes a serious view of the incident and has worked with NCS on appropriate remedial measures. It will also work with NCS on measures to prevent such errors in the future.
- Additional reporting by Adrian Lim