Tuesday, 12 March 2013

MediShield change relieves parents with ailing infants

High medical expenses for those born from March 1 are partially covered
By Salma Khalik, The Straits Times, 11 Mar 2013

WHEN he was born this month at just 30 weeks, he was about two months premature and weighed only 1.56kg. His lungs were underdeveloped and he could not breathe on his own.

He was sent from the birthing suite to the neonatal intensive care unit (Nicu) at KK Women's and Children's Hospital (KKH).

His mother, Madam Nordiana, 34, was worried about the bill. She had already spent 40 days in hospital prior to his birth, chalking up a bill of $17,000. The prolonged stay was necessary because of her high blood-sugar levels and a leaking waterbag.

So three days after he was born, she asked for her son's interim bill. It was already more than $6,000 - even though he is in C class, which enjoys the highest subsidy - and he will remain in hospital for some weeks until he is able to breathe independently.

But she and her husband, both professionals, have good news. First, the child, their second, is responding well to treatment.

And second, he was born on March 2, a day after MediShield, the national health insurance scheme, automatically covered part of high medical expenses incurred by babies of Singaporeans and Permanent Residents from birth.

So insurance will pick up the bulk of his bill. His parents need to pay only the initial $1,500 in C class or $2,000 for B2, and between 10 and 20 per cent of the rest of the bill. Medisave can be used to pay this portion.

Every year, more than 800 babies are born in Singapore with a serious defect. About 500 babies a year, like Madam Nordiana's son, need care at KKH's Nicu. Like him, the majority are premature.

Singapore is seeing more premature babies - 35 per cent more than 20 years ago - possibly because today's women are older when they deliver. Roughly two out of 15 births are premature.

Some have congenital problems, such as a hole in the heart.

Associate Professor Victor Samuel Rajadurai, head of neonatology at KKH, said a baby was born in early March with problems in the digestive tract that needed surgery. Even at C class rates, the bill will be around $11,500, he said.

But because the infant was born this month, MediShield will pick up the bulk of the cost.

This is a safety net set up specially for them, with a war chest of $8 million a year - $2 million more than the total that children received from Medifund last year.

This means that medical social workers can afford to be more generous when handing out aid to children up to the age of 18.

A 36-year-old woman, who wanted to be known only as Madam Yap, is grateful for this. Her third child was born with brain damage because his shoulders got stuck during delivery and he was deprived of oxygen. He has periodic fits and needs a lot of physiotherapy and medicine.

His parents, who jointly earn $4,500 a month, pay about $400 a month for his treatment. They were relieved when told that Medifund Junior will help pay 78 per cent of his bills from this month.

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