Singapore will stop free treatment of unvaccinated COVID patients

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The Singaporean government will no longer cover the medical costs of people “unvaccinated by choice”, who account for the bulk of remaining new COVID-19 cases and hospitalisations in the city-state.

“Currently, unvaccinated persons make up a sizable majority of those who require intensive inpatient care, and disproportionately contribute to the strain on our healthcare resources,” the Ministry of Health said in a statement.

Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong receiving his coronavirus vaccine earlier this year. Credit:AP

“COVID-19 patients who are unvaccinated by choice may still tap on regular healthcare financing arrangements to pay for their bills where applicable,” the ministry added.

The government now foots the bill for any Singaporean citizen, permanent resident or holder of a long-term work pass who is sick with COVID-19, unless they tested positive shortly after returning from overseas.

“This was to avoid financial considerations adding to public uncertainty and concern when COVID-19 was an emergent and unfamiliar disease,” the ministry said.

“Until the COVID-19 situation is more stable,” it will continue to cover related medical costs for those who are vaccinated, as well as for those still not eligible: children 12 and under and people with certain medical conditions. Partially vaccinated people will be covered until December 31.

Unvaccinated people make up the bulk of COVID hospitalisations in Singapore at the moment.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

Eighty-five per cent of people eligible for coronavirus vaccines in Singapore are fully vaccinated, and 18 per cent have received booster shots.

Singapore is considered to have one of the world’s the best healthcare systems. A 2017 study in the leading medical journal The Lancet found the island-state ranked first among 188 countries in efforts to meet health-related sustainable development goals set by the United Nations for 2030.

The Singaporean model, however, depends heavily on privatised medical services, meaning the unvaccinated may already have coverage if they become sick with COVID-19. In the United States, for example, about one-third of healthcare spending is private, while in Singapore it’s the opposite, according to an analysis by the New York Times.

Workers in Singapore are mandated to put a portion of their salaries away in health savings accounts, which employees are also required to contribute to based on varying criteria.

Under this system, bills for the unvaccinated will still be “highly supported and highly subsidised,” Health Minister Ong Ye Kung told a news conference on Monday, Yahoo News reported.

“Hospitals really much prefer not to have to bill these patients at all,” Ong said. “But we have to send this important signal to urge everyone to get vaccinated if you are eligible.”

Singapore recorded some 91,000 new coronavirus infections over the last 28 days, 98.7 per cent of which were asymptomatic or mild cases, according to the ministry.

As of November 7, 1725 people were hospitalised with the virus. Of those, according to the ministry, 301 have required oxygen, 62 were in intensive care, and 67 were critically ill and intubated. That has put Singapore’s current ICU use rate at 68.5 per cent.

“While this is still manageable by stretching our healthcare manpower, we must not let down our guard and must avoid a resurgence of cases that could once again threaten to overwhelm our health care system,” the ministry said.

Early in the pandemic, Singapore relied on extensive surveillance, contact tracing and strict movement restrictions to keep virus cases low. The heavily surveilled city-state has since begun easing some virus-related restrictions.

The Washington Post

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