Over 7,770 people received the wrong CHAS subsidies due to a software error

About 7,700 individuals received inaccurate healthcare and intermediate- and long-term care subsidies due to a software error in the NCS computer system, said the Ministry of Health on 16 Feb.

NCS is an information and communications technology (ICT) and communications engineering services provider. It is a subsidiary of the Singtel Group.

The affected where individuals whose applications and renewals of their Community Health Assist Scheme (CHAS) cards were processed between 18 September and 10 October 2018. The error happened when the system calculated means-test results.

The means-test system calculates the healthcare subsidies which people are eligible for based on their income information. The subsidies are means-tested so that lower-income households receive greater financial support.

“The means-test and subsidy tiers for all affected individuals have been corrected by Feb 16, 2019,” MOH said.

For the time being, MOH says those affected individuals don’t want to do anything. The ministry said it is working closely with healthcare service providers and scheme administrators to reach out to those affected.

The MOH also clarified that about 6,4000 people received higher subsidies than they were eligible for, totalling to about S$2 million. On the other hand, about 1,3000 people received lower subsidies than they were meant to, totalling about S$400,000.

“MOH intends to recover from NCS the costs and expenses incurred as a result of this incident, as allowed for under our contract,” said the Ministry in regards to the overpayment of subsidies. Those who were underpaid will be reimbursed, they added.

These discrepancies were noticed by the CHAS card processing team in MOH Holding when it was reviewing CHAS applications appeals.

“We received three appeals for the group affected,” MOH said.

The first case of discrepancy was detected on Sep 24, 2018 and NCS was alerted immediately, MOH said.

“The issue was initially attributed to intermittent network connection problems. Five more cases were subsequently detected between Oct 9 and Nov 2, and a more thorough investigation was initiated,” added the health ministry.

Later in November, NCS found the root cause of the discrepancies which was a software version issue on a server used by the means-test system when it was migrated to another government data centre in September.

This led to the means-test results being computed without the requisite income information, said MOH.

“NCS further discovered that their deployment team had in fact fixed the software version issue earlier on Oct 10, 2018 in response to an unrelated slow performance issue. This stopped further cases of errors but it did not correct the means-test results that had been generated from Sep 18, 2018 to Oct 10, 2018,” MOH said.

In December 2018, MOH received an assessment from NCS saying that the glitch could have affected thousands of people across multiple schemes.

MOH said it was crucial to rectify the root cause of the problem to prevent more errors before they made any public announcements about the issue. They also wanted to fully establish the different groups of people and subsidies that were affected as well as limit the impact of inaccurate means-test results from affecting more schemes and individuals.

MOH said it was important to have a clear rectification plan in place after making the error public to reach out to the affected individuals to inform and reimburse them where applicable.

“If we do not do so, we could cause confusion and uncertainty, not just among the affected, but the larger group of unaffected. Scheme administrators and service providers will also face many queries for which they are unable to respond,” MOH said.

Clarifying their efforts, MOH said it has worked with NCS from December to identify the extent of the impact and establish the correct subsidy tiers for each individual affected.

The final assessment was completed on Jan 14 and MOH worked with grant scheme administrators and healthcare institutions to finalise the remedial action plans, including how affected individuals will be informed and reimbursed.

The correct subsidy tiers of all affected individuals were restored by Feb 16.

Now, service providers and scheme administrators will progressively inform those affective and arrange for reimbursements where applicable. MOH said they expect all affected individuals to be informed by mid-March 2019.

According to MOH, NCS has acknowledged the error has taken further steps by tightening the system deployment process. Additional safeguards have been put in place to prevent a recurrence of such an incident and the NCS has reiterated its commitment to being held to the highest standards as a service provider, said MOH.

“MOH takes a serious view of the incident, and has worked with NCS on appropriate remedial measures. MOH will work with NCS on measures to prevent such errors in the future,” the ministry stated.

MOH found out about this error back in December 2018 yet only announced it in February 2019. Why? And it was announced on a Saturday, no less. Given that the incident isn’t new, why is it being presented during the weekend as if it’s breaking news?

If the matter was made public even just a few days before Saturday (16 Feb), Member of Parliament would have been able to submit questions on it immediately to be answered on Monday’s session.