Singapore will further scale back financial support for testing and treatment of COVID-19, although vaccines and oral antivirals will remain fully subsidised for eligible patients, the Health Ministry (MOH) announced on Thursday (Feb 9).
The changes will take effect from Apr 1, and will bring the financial support for COVID-19 testing and treatment in line with that of other acute illnesses.
They follow Singapore’s adjustment of the DORSCON level down from yellow to green and further stepping down of community measures from Feb 13.
Speaking at a multi-ministry task force press conference, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung noted that throughout the pandemic, COVID-19 testing and treatment were generally provided free-of-charge or at a very low fee for residents.
“Given that COVID-19 was an unfamiliar disease, it is important that we removed the uncertainties and concerns on the cost of testing and we have maintained that policy for almost three years.
“In DORSCON Green, we are establishing an endemic, new norm, and living with the disease,” he said.
NO MORE FULL SUBSIDY
From April, all COVID-19 patients, including Singaporeans, permanent residents and long-term pass holders, who receive treatment at a hospital or COVID-19 treatment facility will no longer be given a 100 per cent subsidy. This is regardless of their vaccination status.
Instead, regular healthcare safety nets, namely government subsidies, MediShield Life and MediSave, will apply to Singaporeans and permanent residents to defray their healthcare expenses.
“We wish to assure lower-income Singaporeans that financial assistance will be available to ensure that healthcare cost remains affordable,” the ministry added.
Community isolation facilities will no longer be required for COVID-19, just as they are not required for other endemic diseases like influenza or chicken pox, said MOH.
The Government will maintain some community isolation facilities for COVID-19 patients who want to self-isolate “for valid reasons”. But all occupants will be charged for their stay.
As these community isolation facilities are not medical facilities, Singaporeans and permanent residents will not be able to tap on government subsidies, MediShield Life or MediSave to pay for their bills, MOH added.
In primary care settings at polyclinics and general practitioner clinics, all patients must pay for any COVID-19 testing, subject to prevailing subsidies.
COVID-19 vaccinations and oral antivirals will remain fully subsidised for clinically eligible patients. This will apply in outpatient, including primary care, ambulatory settings of public hospitals and nursing homes, until further notice.
COVID-19 jabs under the National Vaccination Programme will continue to be offered free to all Singaporeans, permanent residents, long-term pass-holders and certain short-term pass-holders.
“This is because these are important preventive steps and treatments to avoid severe disease and hospitalisations, and will remain an important part of living with COVID-19,” said MOH.
Mr Ong noted that MOH is exploring making all nationally recommended vaccines free under the Healthier SG initiative. While the COVID-19 jab is currently not a nationally recommended vaccine, if it does become one, it could become permanently free under Healthier SG, he said.
Patients with a higher risk of severe COVID-19, such as the immunocompromised and individuals with some comorbidities, may also be referred by their doctors for free telemedicine support.
The ministry reiterated that vaccination remained “our first line of defence” against the disease, and that Singapore’s high vaccination rates had enabled Singapore to arrive at the COVID-19 endemic norm today.
Out of the population eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, 83 per cent have received minimum protection, while 48 per cent have an up-to-date vaccination, according to MOH data as of Feb 7.
Individuals are considered up to date with their vaccination if they have at least the minimum protection and their last vaccine dose was received within the past year.
UPDATED VACCINATION GUIDELINES
With the transition to this endemic new normal, the Expert Committee on COVID-19 Vaccination has also updated the vaccination guidelines.
Everyone aged five years and above should achieve at least minimum protection – that is, three doses of mRNA or Novavax vaccine, or four doses of Sinovac vaccine.
As for booster doses, those at higher risk of severe disease from COVID-19 – people aged 60 years and above, medically vulnerable people, and residents of aged care facilities – are recommended to take the jab around one year after the last booster dose. They are urged to receive their booster dose this year when they become eligible for it.
People aged 12 to 59 years who are healthy have a lower risk of severe disease, and a booster will be offered around one year after their last booster dose to enhance protection.
Children aged five to 11 are neither recommended nor eligible for additional doses beyond minimum protection.
Children aged six months to four years continue to be recommended to complete two doses of Moderna/SpikeVax or three doses of Pfizer-BioNTech/Comirnaty. They are not recommended nor eligible for additional doses at this time.
All individuals eligible for COVID-19 vaccination may book an appointment at the Joint Testing and Vaccination Centres, participating Public Health Preparedness Clinics, polyclinics and Vaccination Centres.
MOH will continue to deploy mobile vaccination teams to heartland locations. From Feb 15 to Apr 2, these teams will be deployed to multiple heartland locations for three days each.
The COVID-19 vaccination requirements for new permanent residents, long-term pass and work pass applications, as well as the renewal of selected work permit holders and S Pass holders in the construction, marine shipyard and process sectors or residing in dormitories, will remain in place to maintain the high level of vaccination coverage nationally, MOH added.
From Apr 1, those who recently recovered from COVID-19 will no longer be given temporary exemption from COVID-19 vaccination requirements.