CHAS: 700,000 eligible, but only 300,000 apply after 2 years?

700,000 eligible!
Er how come only 300,000 apply after 2 years?
Got blue and orange cards you know
How come nobody told me leh?
No subsidy for common conditions, no masks!
Excluded from 7 out of 11 dental services also?

I refer to the article “Surge in patients unlikely despite change in subsidy scheme: Docs” (Straits Times, Aug 21).

Only 300,000 Chas cardholders?

It states that “There are some 300,000 Chas cardholders now, and there is a need to reach out to more, said doctors.

The problem is that lower-income families do not always read the news, and so will remain unaware,” said Dr Elsie Tong, whose clinic is in Redhill.”

Eligibility age reduced, income reduced?

When Chas was announced with much fanfare during the National Day Rally speech in August 2011 – eligibility age reduced from 65 to 40 and per capita household income increased from $800 to $1,500.

5 months more to implement? 

Just a few days after the announcement, some Singaporeans were disappointed when it was clarified that it would only be effective from January 2012 (actually the actual implementation date became 15 January, 2012). Why announce such an important subsidy scheme which will take about five months to implement? Of course, there was no indication during the NDR speech that it would take such a long time.

Wow – 700,000 qualify?

It was also reported in the media in August 2011 with much fanfare that an estimated over 700,000 Singaporeans would qualify. So, why is it that now after about two years since the scheme was announced – there are only “some 300,000 Chas cardholders now”?

As I was the talkshow host of a weekly one-hour money radio show from September 2008 to December 2011, allow me to share my experience on the Chas as there were many listeners who called or SMSed during the shows on this scheme.

The application form?

From the feedback of listeners, I think perhaps the obvious thing that could have and can still be done is to place the Chas application forms at the hundreds of participating private clinics (560 GP plus 310 dental clinics now). This would enable easy awareness, access, ease of application and of course the private clinics would have the incentive to promote the scheme.

For reasons perhaps only known to whoever makes such decisions – the hard copy form (lower-income people are generally not online savvy – online application form) are only available at polyclinics, public hospitals and community centres/Community Development Councils.

How much disbursed?

So, of the hundreds of millions of dollars that was announced as Chas subsidies that would go to help Singaporeans, how much exactly has been disbursed in the first year (2012) and so far this year?

Why private clinics don’t participate?

Currently only 560 GP clinics – or about 40 per cent of the total number – are part of the scheme.

Some doctors who are not on Chas said they were deterred by the process involved for such patients.

It takes five to 10 minutes to fill up an online form to obtain a claim from the Ministry of Health (MOH).

Blue vs yellow?

As to “Blue Chas cardholders, or those with per capita household monthly income of $900 and below, can get a subsidy of up to $18.50 for common conditions such as flu and fever.

Orange cardholders, or those with per capita household monthly income of between $900 and $1,500, receive no subsidy for common conditions. But they get up to $50 per visit for chronic conditions, such as diabetes.” – I believe it has never been reported in the media that there were two different types of Chas cards, until now.

The “blues” of getting free face masks?

It was only during the free distribution of face masks during the recent haze that some of the Chas card holders realised after travelling to get their free masks that only blue card holders were entitled to get them.

I am rather puzzled by the numbers in this regard. Since it was announced that 200,000 needy families were eligible to collect the one million free masks – and there are only 300,000 cardholders now (how many blue, how many orange?) – wouldn’t the million masks have been more than enough for all cardholders of any colour?

So, this brings up the question – how many of the 200,000 needy families actually managed to receive their free masks?

Moreover, since one of the doctors interviewed said “the problem is that lower-income families do not always read the news, and so will remain unaware” – I wonder if most of the cardholders who went to collect their free masks were orange ones?

Orange – no subsidy for common conditions?

By the way, how many Singaporeans know that there is a world of difference between the two cards? Orange cardholders “receive no subsidy for common conditions” and are excluded from seven out of the 11 selected dental services!

GST-voucher ‘auto’, but Chas ‘manual’?

Finally, since the GST-voucher, Medisave top-up, U-save, etc can be automatically given to all Singaporeans, why is it that the Chas is so cumbersome – resulting in just 300,000 of the over 700,000 eligible Singaporeans applying to-date?

You mean the technology, processes, database, etc that enabled the GST schemes cannot be applied to the Chas?

Perhaps another case of pay more easy, but get subsidy not so easy?

Leong Sze Hian

About the Author

Leong Sze Hian has served as the president of 4 professional bodies, honorary consul of 2 countries, an alumnus of Harvard University, authored 4 books, quoted over 1500 times in the media , has been a radio talkshow host, a newspaper daily columnist, Wharton Fellow, SEACeM Fellow, columnist for theonlinecitizen and Malaysiakini, executive producer of Ilo Ilo (40 international awards), Hotel Mumbai (associate producer), invited to speak more than 200 times in about 40 countries, CIFA advisory board member, founding advisor to the Financial Planning Associations of 2 countries. He has 3 Masters, 2 Bachelors degrees and 13 professional  qualifications.