Updated: 01/23/2013 03:21

More middle income families to benefit from new Medifund Junior scheme

More middle income families to benefit from new Medifund Junior scheme

The Health Ministry will set aside S$8 million annually to help needy families pay for their children's treatment at public hospitals from 1 March this year. 

An additional S$10 million in Medifund assistance will be required over five years to supplement the funds that are currently available. In last year's budget, the government had announced that it would make a top up of S$600 million to Medifund.

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said Singaporean children aged below 18 years can tap into the Medifund Junior scheme to defray their healthcare costs. 

The KK Women's and Children's Hospital puts up on average 400 Medifund applications a month. 

95 per cent of these applications are usually successful with families getting assistance from Medifund. 

However, as Medifund is targetted at lower income families, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong says the middle income families are usually left out as they don't meet the criteria. 

"Some of them even though they are from the middle income families, some of the bills can be quite costly. So for these large bills, we are giving the hospitals more flexibility under the Medifund Junior to be able to help these middle income families."

Healthcare institutions will assess the out-of-pocket expenses by the needy families and their family resources before offering them assistance under this new fund. 

Needy children diagnosed with congenital or neonatal conditions before 1 March will also be able to use the new fund to help defray costs. 

These include stays at the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit or NICU at KK Women's and Children's Hospital. 

Senior Principal Medical Social Worker at KK Women's and Children's Hospital, Mavis Teo, explains how the scheme works. 

From March 1 this year, MediShield coverage will be extended to include congenital and neonatal conditions. All Singaporean newborns born on or after 1 March 2013 will automatically be covered by MediShield from birth, without having to be assessed for pre-exisiting conditions. The government will also set up a Medisave account and deposit a one-off Medisave grant of S$3,000 over two tranches, for all Singapore citizens born on or after 26 August 2012.

"If you give an example of a couple with a newborn child with congenital problems and this is a dual-income family with an average income of about S$4,000. And if the bill is very high, say if they stay in NICU and it costs them about S$20,000 to S$30,000, we would be able to help them to cover some of the medical expenses for the NICU stay."

Ms Teo added that a one-day stay at the NICU after subsidies can cost between S$600 and S$800 with treatment at the unit taking as long as one to six months. 

For those with more serious premature cases, or those with neonatal or congenital conditions, hospital stay may range between one month and six months, and on the average bills can be anything from $10,000 to $60,000. In extremely rare cases, babies with severe complications, needing multi-stage surgeries and treatment, medical expenses may even exceed $100,000.

The hospital's NICU which also treats premature babies will be expanded. 

Doctors at the KK Women's and Children's Hospital say that its Neonatal Intensive Care Unit is usually run at full capacity due to the rising number of admissions in the last few years. 

As such, the unit will undergo renovation and see its bed capacity rise from the current 24 to 40 in the next five years - making it the largest facility in the region. 

Associate Professor Samuel Rajadurai said the incidence of premature babies has gone up by 10 to 13.5 per cent over 20 years. A number of factors have led to this phenomenon including the older age of mothers and better monitoring of mothers during their pregnancies.

 The hospital also plans to expand their outpatient as well as ambulatory services and increase the number of beds.

-By Vimita Mohandas

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