Sunday 18 October 2015

Over 40,000 get haze subsidies for treatment

Figure is already more than double the number who received such subsidies in 2013
By Salma Khalik, Senior Health Correspondent, The Straits Times, 17 Oct 2015

More than 40,000 people have received haze subsidies for treatment from polyclinics and private GPs for medical conditions excacerbated by the polluted air.

This is already more than double the total number who received such subsidies in 2013 when Singapore experienced its worst haze in recent years.

The subsidy from the Ministry of Health (MOH) is for the treatment of allergic rhinitis, asthma, bronchitis, conjunctivitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and upper respiratory tract infections.

Patients who qualify include children aged 18 years and younger, holders of the Community Health Assist Scheme (CHAS) card and those on public assistance.

They pay $10 for consultation and medicine, with the Ministry of Health (MOH) paying the rest of the bill which would typically range from $20 to $80, depending on the condition and medicine needed.

Singaporeans who earned $1,800 or less a month over the past six months are also entitled to the subsidy by making a self-declaration of their income on an official form which participating clinics have.

In 2013, the previous time Singapore experienced severe haze, more than 17,000 people received the subsidy, costing the MOH about $500,000.

This time, a new group of 450,000 pioneers are entitled to an even higher subsidy, as they need to pay only $5 for treatment and medicine.

A spokesman for MOH said 6,300 have received such subsidies from polyclinics, which have seen a 3.5 per cent increase in patients compared to the pre-haze period. But it was not able to say which conditions were the most common.

GPs have up to a month to submit their claims, so figures from them are not yet available.

But if polyclinics again treat about 15 per cent of patients who are given the subsidies, as they did during the bad haze days in 2013, then about 42,000 people would have benefited from the scheme so far.

Dr Kelvin Goh, medical director of Northeast Medical Group which runs nine clinics in various parts of the country, said many turned up with upper respiratory tract infections, such as asthma or bronchitis.

He added that he sees other haze-related conditions, such as headaches and conjunctival irritation, but these conditions are not covered by the subsidy.

Dr Pauline Neow, whose clinic in Mei Ling Street is getting up to 20 per cent more patients with the current bad haze, said: "Even if they are simple upper respiratory tract infections, their symptoms are often made worse by the haze."

Between five and eight patients a day require the haze subsidy, she said, as most have company health cover.

Singapore was relatively haze- free in the early part of this week, but yesterday was an unhealthy day, with the 24-hour PSI topping 100.

Haze conditions today are expected to remain in the unhealthy range.

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