Sunday, 4 January 2015

Low- to mid-income Singaporeans pay less for medicine from 1 January 2015

By Linette Lai, The Straits Times, 30 Dec 2014

LOWER- to middle-income Singaporeans will pay less for medicine at polyclinics and subsidised specialist outpatient clinics (SOCs) from Thursday, when the new year starts.

Such patients with Community Health Assist Scheme (CHAS) cards will get a 75 per cent discount on subsidised medicine at these places.

On top of this, those from the pioneer generation - Singaporeans aged 65 and above this year and who became citizens before 1987 - will get an extra 50 per cent off.

The increased medication subsidies were announced during the Budget speech in February.

Currently, all Singaporeans get at least 50 per cent off subsidised medication at polyclinics and subsidised SOCs, such as the foetal care centre at the National University Hospital (NUH). They may get more if they are under 18 or 65 and above.

The higher discounts can mean savings of more than $4 for 28 tablets of carvedilol used to manage heart conditions, for instance.

These cost $5.88 for every subsidised patient regardless of age or income.

With the new subsidies, CHAS cardholders pay $2.94, while cardholders who are of the pioneer generation pay only $1.47.

Yesterday, Senior Minister of State for Health Amy Khor visited a session to prepare NUH staff for Thursday's roll-out, during which pharmacists role-played possible patient encounters.

"The focus is on training pharmacy staff because it is envisaged that most of the queries on subsidised medication will be at the pharmacies," she told reporters.

She said 1.5 million Singaporeans have visited subsidised SOCs in the past year. Mr Wu Tuck Seng, deputy director for NUH's pharmacy department, hoped the new medication subsidies will help patients better follow doctors' orders.

"Sometimes, the doctor prescribes six months' worth of medicine, but they take only three months' worth because they cannot afford it," he said.

One person who is glad for the higher discounts is Madam Chew Kim, 80, who takes various types of medication for arthritis, chronic headaches and stomach pain.

"It's good, otherwise I really wouldn't be able to see the doctor," she said in Mandarin. "Medicine is so expensive."

Higher drug subsidies a welcome boon for the new year
By Kash Cheong And Olivia Ho, The Straits Times, 3 Jan 2015

RETIRED hawker Poh Khuat and his wife, Madam Kang Ngo Hwee, consulted a doctor at Outram Polyclinic on Dec 27. But the elderly couple waited until yesterday to collect their medication for chronic conditions such as high cholesterol and leg pain.

They were among some Singaporeans who delayed getting medicines from polyclinics or subsidised Specialist Outpatient Clinics (SOCs) at public hospitals, so they could enjoy the higher drug subsidies that began on Thursday.

Lower- to middle-income patients with Community Health Assist Scheme (CHAS) cards now get a 75 per cent discount on subsidised medicine at polyclinics or subsidised SOCs. Those from the Pioneer Generation (PG) - Singaporeans aged 65 or above last year and who became citizens before 1987 - get an extra 50 per cent.

Last year, all Singaporeans got at least 50 per cent off subsidised medication at polyclinics and subsidised SOCs. Those 65 or older, or under 18, might get more.

With the higher subsidies, Mr Poh, 75, saw $10 knocked off his $74.30 bill. After including other government subsidies that he qualifies for, he paid only $9.25.

"Our children give us money, but they have their own children to support, and we do not want to be a burden," he said. "We try not to spend more than $12 a day, so this subsidy really helps."

Of the 100 patients The Straits Times spoke to yesterday, most said they learnt about the additional subsidies from newspapers or television or by word of mouth.

Not many postponed collecting their medication just to take advantage of the higher subsidies. Some were not aware of the new subsidies, but were pleasantly surprised to get the discounts.

"I was just here to see a doctor," said Mr Boh Jee Buay, 67. "But new discounts are always welcome."

Last September, when PG subsidies for medical services such as doctor's consultations started, senior citizens rushed to doctors or dentists, brandishing their new PG cards to get steep discounts. Private medical and dental chains reported a 30 per cent rise in the number of elderly patients who sought treatment on day one.

Yesterday, after the new subsidies started, polyclinics said they saw only a slight increase, noting that more time would be needed to assess demand. The situation was similar at subsidised SOCs in Singapore General Hospital and Tan Tock Seng Hospital.

"As the first day coincided with the post-New Year holiday, when crowds were heavy, any rise in attendance might not have been due solely to enhancements in drug subsidies," said National Healthcare Group Polyclinics.

To communicate the changes, polyclinics and subsidised SOCs trained staff beforehand.

Subsidies for Singaporeans and the Pioneer Generation apply to subsidised medication prescribed at subsidised SOCs and polyclinics. Such medications fall under the Ministry of Health's Standard Drug List or Medication Assistance Fund (MAF), and have been assessed to be cost-effective and essential for treatment.

The MAF was enhanced in 2011 to provide subsidies to eligible patients who need non-standard drugs assessed by clinical review panels of public health-care institutions to be clinically necessary and appropriate for treatment. Patients needing financial aid can approach the institution's staff.

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