Expanded programme lets more enjoy lower rates at family doctors
A SCHEME that will allow more than 700,000 people to see family doctors at subsidised rates is now open for applications. Half of all Singaporeans aged 40 and over are eligible for up to $480 a year off their bills at private GP clinics under the government initiative, which will begin on Jan 15. It was introduced in 2000, but until now has been available only to the elderly poor. Health Minister Gan Kim Yong announced the change in August, saying the aim was to encourage more people to see GPs. This could help ease the crowds at Singapore’s 18 highly subsidised polyclinics, and allow patients the convenience of being able to visit a family doctor near them for all their ailments.
To be eligible for the enhanced Primary Care Partnership Scheme (PCPS), patients have to live in a household with an income of $1,500 or less per head. So a family of four with a total of $6,000 coming in every month would qualify. The subsidies come in two tiers. Those with per capita household income of $900 or less get a blue Health Assist card. This gives them a subsidy of $18.50 when they see their GP for acute problems such as coughs, colds and headaches.
The subsidy is higher for treatment of the 10 chronic ailments for which Medisave can be used. These patients get $80 per visit up to a cap of either $320 or $480 a year, depending on how many medical problems they have. The second tier is for those with per capita household incomes of $901 to $1,500. Their orange card entitles them to subsidised treatment for chronic problems only. They get $50 per visit, capped at $200 or $300 a year. Application forms can be picked up from any public hospital, polyclinic, community centre or club, as well as community development councils. If several members of a family are eligible, only one form is needed for all of them.
Successful applicants will receive their Health Assist card and a welcome pack with a list of the 450 clinics on the programme. Dr Tham Kwong Lum, a GP in Toa Payoh, said he has had many inquiries about the expanded scheme since it was announced. He now treats between 30 and 40 patients on the existing version, but expects to see a lot more next year. “There are many people in the vicinity who would qualify,” he said. Even with the subsidy, he said patients can expect to pay about 30 per cent more than they would at a polyclinic. For that, they get convenience, and also better service. Dr Tham explained that he sees his diabetic patients every month, rather than every three months, which is the norm at polyclinics. He added: “A diabetic can deteriorate very quickly. This way, I can pick up poor sugar control early.” But Dr Jonathan Chan, whose clinic is also in Toa Payoh and who sees as many as 200 PCPS patients a month, charges about polyclinic rates.
Mr Gan told The Straits Times yesterday that he hopes more GPs will sign up for the scheme. There are more than 2,000 of them in Singapore. The minister said some are put off by the administrative work involved. His ministry is looking at giving them technical help, and is in talks with several firms about providing computer systems.