Less reliance on Medifund after extra subsidies, MediShield Life

General shots at Changi General Hospital.
General shots at Changi General Hospital. PHOTO: ST FILE

The introduction of MediShield Life and extra subsidies for the pioneer generation has led to poorer patients relying less on the Medifund scheme.

Set up in 1993 to help the needy pay for hospital and long-term care, Medifund paid out $155.2 million in its last financial year ending March 31 - down from $159.3 million the previous year.

This was despite more people seeking help, with applications approved rising 9 per cent to nearly 1.1 million.

Dr Chia Shi Lu, head of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Health, said the fall in total payouts was anticipated.

Since last November, everyone has come under national health insurance scheme MediShield Life, which subsidises big hospital bills, even for pre- existing conditions. The Ministry of Health (MOH) also put in additional subsidies for pioneer generation patients - on top of the normal subsidies provided at polyclinics and specialist outpatient clinics.

  • 1.1m

    The number of Medifund applications approved, which showed an increase of 9 per cent.

     $77

    Average amount of top-up needed by Medifund applicants for outpatient bills in last financial year, down from $95 the previous year.

These, said Dr Chia, "act in concert to reduce the remaining amount that patients will have to pay on their own, and this is the part that is covered by Medifund".

MOH added that changes allowing for more funds from Medisave, which is the portion of Central Provident Fund money reserved for medical needs, to be used for chronic conditions and diagnostic scans have also resulted in less need to rely on Medifund.

From $95 the previous year, Medifund applicants needed only an average top-up of $77 for outpatient bills, according to the latest Medifund annual report.

But Medifund, which last year approved 99.9 per cent of applications, although not all received full assistance, did see one substantial rise: The amount given to patients in long-term care, such as those in nursing homes, went up by 10 per cent to $26 million last year.

In this sector, only community hospitals are covered by MediShield Life, and only if the patient had moved from a general hospital. So little has changed in terms of healthcare financing for this sector.

Medifund has a capital sum of $4 billion from the Government. As it is an endowment fund, only income generated can be used.

Even though the increase in payouts each year was more than 20 per cent in 2013 and 2014, fuelled by higher healthcare costs and patient numbers, the fund has another $120.3 million.

Dr Chia is happy with the shift in healthcare financing, as help from Medifund "may depend on the available coffers and the largesse of the government of the day", he said.

MediShield Life, on the other hand, "works on risk pooling and is inherently more stable and sustainable, he said. "Certainly, we should still be wary of overconsumption, but the current data does not point to this at present."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 24, 2016, with the headline 'Less reliance on Medifund after extra subsidies, MediShield Life'. Print Edition | Subscribe