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Singapore’s unvaccinated may face Covid medical bills over S$25,000

·3-min read
Singapore’s unvaccinated may face Covid medical bills over S$25,000  (PHOTO: ROSLAN RAHMAN/AFP via Getty Images)
Singapore’s unvaccinated may face Covid medical bills over S$25,000 (PHOTO: ROSLAN RAHMAN/AFP via Getty Images)

By Low De Wei and Joyce Koh

(Bloomberg) — Covid patients in Singapore who choose not to get vaccinated could face high medical bills, as one of the most immunised societies in the world ramps up the pressure to get more shots in arms.

The government has so far shielded residents and citizens in the city-state from the cost of treatment for Covid-19 throughout the pandemic by fully covering everyone. But no longer. Amid the worst virus outbreak in the country, officials have opted to start charging Covid-19 patients who are unvaccinated by choice beginning Dec. 8.

Patients who receive therapeutics and stay in intensive care units may have to pay about S$25,000, according to a median estimate released by the health ministry on Thursday in response to queries from Bloomberg News.

“Our hospitals really much prefer not to have to bill these patients at all, but we have to send this important signal, to urge everyone to get vaccinated if you are eligible,” health minister Ong Ye Kung said in a media briefing on Monday announcing the move.

In a country where 85% of the population is already fully innoculated, the government said unvaccinated Covid-19 patients make up a sizeable majority of those who need intensive inpatient care, and “disproportionately” strain its health care resources.

Safety Nets

Government subsidies for the poor and a national health insurance plan can lower the fees to S$2,000 to S$4,000 for eligible Singaporeans, the health ministry said. Patients may also choose to tap a national medical savings policy to further reduce this figure.

“Depending on the severity of the patient’s condition and the type of Covid-19 facility where care is rendered, the bill size would vary,” the ministry said.

Singapore has increased pressure on holdouts to get their shots in recent months, including barring the unvaccinated from malls, restaurants and attractions. From the start of next year, only vaccinated people will be allowed in offices, while the unvaccinated will have to pay for their own tests before being allowed in.

But worries have risen this new measure could impose financial burdens on vulnerable members of society.

““The announcement is frankly much more around signaling than any substantial financial impact,” said Jeremy Lim, associate professor at the National University of Singapore’s Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health. “However, people are understandably very concerned about the unknowns, and there’s always a risk that the unvaccinated are not the relatively well-off.”

Health ministry data published on Thursday shows seniors above age 60 who aren’t fully protected were more than 25 times more likely to end up in intensive care in the last week than their vaccinated peers.

Insurers

Insurers have sought to reassure clients that they will help bear the burden of such costs. Two of Singapore’s largest insurance firms, Great Eastern Holdings Ltd. and AIA Singapore Pte Ltd, said in separate statements that they will continue to subsidise claims for customers regardless of vaccination status.

Still, firms may face pressure in the future to drop coverage, said the chief executive officer of AVA Insurance Brokers Pte., Michael Chew. “We can’t insure something which is against public policy,” he said.

(Changes made throughout)

© 2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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