Monday, 25 February 2013

Minister's health vow to the needy

Medifund scheme will be strengthened to ensure aid is available to cover medical bills
By Salma Khalik, The Sunday Times, 24 Feb 2013

No Singaporeans will be denied health care because they cannot afford it, the Government vowed yesterday.

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong gave that assurance as figures for the last financial year up to March 2012 showed that Medifund, the Government endowment fund to help needy citizens cover their medical bills, paid out more than its income for the first time since it was set up in 1993.



Despite the $1.8 million shortfall, Mr Gan told The Sunday Times that the Government will continue to strengthen Medifund to ensure there is enough money to help the needy - especially the elderly.

He said: "The ability to afford medical care is understandably something that may concern our elderly. We recognise this and have tried to provide our senior citizens with more peace of mind."

This is why, he said, the ministry has "given hospitals a lot of flexibility in deciding on Medifund disbursements".

He added: "This helps to ensure that those who genuinely need help are able to receive it and will not fall through the cracks, especially our elderly."

In the last financial year, the Government put $600 million into Medifund's capital sum which now stands at over $3 billion. The money given out by Medifund is the income earned on this capital sum.

Medifund received $82.4 million in earnings in that period and gave out that amount plus $2 million to health-care institutions.

These bodies approved 518,389 applications and gave out $90.8 million to patients, up from 480,869 applications which received $78.7 million the previous year. These institutions were able to pay out more to patients, thanks to Medifund money they had not used in the past.

Only around 1 per cent of applications were rejected - mainly those from people who can afford to pay their bills or with enough money in Medisave accounts.

Some 96 per cent of applications were for outpatient bills, although they accounted for only 66 per cent of the money given out.

Almost 94 per cent of successful applicants had the entire portion of their subsidised bills taken care of.

On average, an inpatient received $1,295 while an outpatient got $103. A needy patient may make several applications to Medifund in a year.

For the past two decades, Medifund has always had more money than the amount it has given to health bodies.

Before a general election, all surplus is added to the capital sum, which cannot be touched. This surplus now stands at $78 million.

In 2007, Medifund Silver was set up to cater specifically for people aged 65 and older. The capital sum for this stands at $740 million. Last year, 20 per cent more money was given to the elderly from this fund than in the 2010 financial year.

Said Mr Gan: "We will continue to do more to provide the elderly with added peace of mind when it comes to health-care services."

A similar fund for children called Medifund Junior will be launched next month that gives parents of young children easier access to financial aid when faced with hefty treatment costs.




Medifund Silver to the rescue
Divorcee received help with $2,500 hospital bill, which was already heavily subsidised
By Salma Khalik, The Sunday Times, 24 Feb 2013

Madam Sam Ah Mui, 67, fractured her ankle and damaged her spine when she fell in the toilet of her rented flat in February last year.

She was taken to Tan Tock Seng Hospital for treatment, before being admitted to Ren Ci Community Hospital, but could not afford to pay even the $100 deposit. It was then waived by the Buddhist charity running the hospital.

The divorcee was living with her daughter, who had been retrenched from her job because she had been taking too much time off to look after her mother, who suffers from heart problems and asthma.

Madam Sam's final bill, after 75 per cent of it was subsidised, came to $2,483. But her daughter, Ms Yee Li Nah, 43, had only $205 in her Medisave account. Fortunately, they were able to turn to Medifund Silver, which picked up the rest of the tab.

Ren Ci patients received more than $1.5 million in Medifund help last year, second only to Bright Vision Hospital's $2.1 million among step-down care facilities for recovering patients.

In the 2011 financial year, 118,337 applications from older patients were approved by health-care institutions.

They received a total of $24 million from Medifund Silver.

Ms Esther Lim, who heads the medical social workers team at the Singapore General Hospital - which gave out more than $5 million from Medifund Silver to the elderly - said the fund's criteria for help are less stringent than those of the main Medifund.

She said: "An elderly patient who might not qualify under Medifund, but who gets help from siblings who are also old and may have medical needs of their own, can get help from Medifund Silver."

Ms Lim said that unlike some younger patients, most of the older ones feel responsible about paying bills.

She added: "Every time elderly patients get a bill, they feel nervous and upset."

Ms Lim, who has been a medical social worker for 17 years, has told her team of social workers to make elderly patients more aware of the help available to them.

She said: "We don't want them to stop getting treatment because they are afraid they can't pay the bill."


Help available to elderly

"We don't want them to stop getting treatment because they are afraid they can't pay the bill."
- MS ESTHER LIM, who heads the medical social workers team at the Singapore General Hospital. She has told her team of social workers to make elderly patients more aware of the help available to them.

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