Singaporeans 65-years old and above who visited their healthcare providers on Monday, when the subsidies for pioneer generation members kicked in, were left nonplussed when they found out that the subsidies applied only to fees for services and consultation, and not for medication.
According to news reports, medical and dental healthcare providers saw a jump of 30 per cent in patient numbers yesterday, with many carrying along their Pioneer Generation (PG) cards which had been earlier sent to them.
The card allows the elderly to receive, for example, a 50 per cent discount or subsidy on services (such as blood tests) and drugs at all polyclinics and specialist outpatient clinics (SOCs) in public hospitals.
Patients can also get $28.50 in subsidies for common ailments such as cough and cold, flu and sore eyes, and chronic conditions which include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and osteoarthritis.
PG members can also go for health screening recommended by the Health Promotion Board (HPB) under its Integrated Screening Programme (ISP).
Patients who visit polyclinics and specialist outpatient clinics in public hospitals do not need to produce the PG card to enjoy the discounts, but those who go to GPs and dental clinics have to.
Besides the polyclinics, there are more than 1,100 participating general practitioner (GP) and dental clinics as well.
While aware that they would received the subsidies for fees on services and consultation, many were however not aware that the discounts for medication will only start on 1 January next year.
Next year, lower- to middle-income Singaporeans will enjoy higher subsidies for subsidised medication at the SOCs and polyclinics.
In March, the Minister of Health, Gan Kim Yong, told Parliament, “From January 2015, all lower to middle-income patients will enjoy a 75 per cent subsidy for all standard drugs so that they pay less for their medication, a reduction of up to half.”
Pioneers will enjoy an additional 50 per cent discount for their subsidised drugs, above the current subsidies for low- and middle-income Singaporeans. Pioneers are thus also advised to register for the CHAS card. (See here.)
But many elderly were unaware that the subsidies for medication or medicine, unlike that for services and consultation, will only take place next year.
This led to some confusion among the elderly who turned up at clinics yesterday.
"Many old folk get confused by these different timings," the Straits Times reported retired businessman Steven Ang, 70, as having said. "They expect all the (Pioneer Generation) benefits to kick in at the same time, but some of them do not know that the enhanced drug subsidy kicks in next year."
The paper added:
Mr Luan Bao An, 66, for instance, presented his Pioneer Generation card and expected to get more subsidies for his high blood pressure medication. "But I did not know that we get more discounts only in January," said the retired goods driver, who was informed by polyclinic staff.
Mr Johnny Aw, 65, a security guard, was bewildered when he found out about it from polyclinic staff. "Why must it take so long to update the medicine scheme? Why don't they start enhanced subsidies at the same time?"
Mr Ang called for better communication from the authorities. "The Government could have given more details in the catchy television and radio commercials to spread the word about when we get what."
The Ministry of Health (MOH), in response, said “more time is needed” before the subsidies for drugs kick in “because enhancement to the drug subsidies is an ‘extensive change’ involving the specialist outpatient clinics and polyclinics.”
For more details of the subsidies, click here: "Higher Subsidies and Pioneer Generation Benefits".