SINGAPORE - All Singaporeans with chronic ailments will be able to tap the Community Health Assist Scheme (Chas) regardless of their income, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Sunday (Aug 19).
This move will qualify them for subsidised medical treatment, with tiered benefits based on their income levels.
The Health Ministry will give more details later, including when the expanded scheme will take effect.
The current Chas scheme subsidises outpatient medical and dental treatments for lower- to middle-income citizen households and the pioneer generation, which refers to Singaporeans born in 1949 or earlier.
Mr Lee, speaking in English at the annual National Day Rally, said the scheme has worked well.
However, as people grow older, more will suffer from chronic conditions, such as diabetes or high blood pressure, he said.
"But we can continue to live a full life if we manage these conditions - by taking good care of ourselves, eating healthily, taking our medications regularly and following up with our family doctor."
He added: "I think all of us will appreciate a little bit of help with the regular medical bills for such chronic conditions."
In the present three-tiered Chas scheme, people can receive subsidised treatment for common illnesses, chronic health problems and specified dental issues. They are also entitled to cheaper health checks.
Blue Chas cardholders have a per capita monthly household income of $1,100 or less, while for middle-income orange cardholders, the monthly household income criteria is between $1,101 and $1,800 per person.
When it comes to chronic health conditions, these groups can get up to $320 in yearly subsidies, depending on their income level, or $480 if the condition is considered complex.
For those in the pioneer generation, subsidies are capped at $360 a year for simple chronic conditions, and $540 a year for complex ones.
Dr Chia Shi-Lu, who heads the Government Parliamentary Committee for Health, said the extension of the scheme is a move in the right direction since two-thirds of people still visit general practitioners (GPs) rather than polyclinics.
"This will further improve affordability and accessibility for our population with an increasing chronic disease burden, as it will lessen out-of-pocket expenses for those who are more comfortable going to their GPs," Dr Chia said.
At the Rally held at the Institute of Technical Education College Central campus in Ang Mo Kio, Mr Lee pledged that the Government will "spare no effort" to ensure Singaporeans can afford medical care.
For many years, the "3Ms" of Singapore healthcare - Medisave, MediShield Life and Medifund - have served the country well, he noted.
"(This framework) has produced good healthcare outcomes, held national healthcare spending low and also kept healthcare affordable for you."
More recent changes to Government healthcare financing schemes - like the introduction of national disability insurance scheme CareShield Life - are also intended to keep healthcare affordable in the years to come.
"We want all Singaporeans to have access to affordable, high-quality healthcare," Mr Lee said. "No one should be denied medical care because they cannot afford it. This is my commitment to you."