SINGAPORE: From March, the Ministry of Health (MOH) will set aside S$8 million annually under a new Medifund Junior scheme to help needy Singaporeans defray their children’s healthcare bills.
The scheme, applicable to children aged below 18, will require an additional S$10 million in Medifund assistance over 5 years, to supplement current funds. The ministry will review whether the amount is sufficient thereafter, said the MOH in a statement.
Needy families will be able to draw on Medifund Junior for help with their children’s healthcare bills at public hospitals, said the ministry.
"By creating Medifund Junior, MOH can target more financial assistance for sick children from needy families. This will also help defray costs incurred by children diagnosed with congenital or neonatal conditions before 1 March 2013," said the ministry.
From March, MediShield coverage for congenital and neonatal conditions will kick in. All Singaporean newborns born on or after March 1 will be covered, without having to be assessed for pre—existing conditions, if their parents do not opt them out.
All existing policyholders will automatically receive coverage for any congenital conditions diagnosed on or after March 1, 2013. This extension will be implemented together with previous MediShield enhancements announced earlier.
To support Singaporean families pay for their child’s MediShield premiums and defray other healthcare expenses, the government will set up a Medisave account and deposit a one—off Medisave grant of S$3,000 over two tranches for all newborn Singapore citizens born on or after August 26, 2012.
The KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH) 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 targeted at lower income families, 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," said Health Minister Gan Kim Yong.
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 (NICU) at KKH.
Ms Mavis Teo, a medical social worker at KKH, said: "For example, 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...if (the child stays) 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."
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 S$10,000 to S$60,000.
In extremely rare cases, babies with severe complications needing multi—stage surgeries and treatment, medical expenses may even exceed S$100,000.
The hospital’s NICU, which also treats premature babies, will be expanded.
Doctors at the KKH say that its NICU is usually run at full capacity due to the rising number of admissions in the past 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, a doctor at KKH, 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 its outpatient as well as ambulatory services and increase the number of beds.
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