Singapore Will Stop Covering COVID-19 Costs for People Unvaccinated By Choice
Singapore will no longer cover medical bills for COVID-19 patients who have chosen not to get vaccinated against the virus. The government, which has been covering the full cost of COVID-19 care for Singaporean citizens and permanent or long-term residents during the pandemic, announced the new policy this week in an effort to boost already-high vaccination rates and relieve steady pressure on the country’s health care system.
“Currently, unvaccinated persons make up a sizeable majority of those who require intensive inpatient care, and disproportionately contribute to the strain on our healthcare resources,” reads a press release from the Singapore Ministry of Health. “Hence, from 8 December 2021, we will begin charging COVID-19 patients who are unvaccinated by choice.”
The new rule will apply to eligible but unvaccinated patients (ages 12 and up) admitted to hospitals and designated COVID-19 treatment facilities. The government will still cover COVID-19-related medical bills for children under 12, as well as people who are over age 12 but medically ineligible for vaccination. (That includes cancer patients and individuals who have received an organ transplant in the past three months and/or are taking intensive immunotherapy drugs, as well as those who are allergic to a component of the COVID-19 vaccine or had a severe adverse reaction to the first dose, per the Ministry of Health.)
The policy change is intended to galvanize the small minority of people in Singapore who are still unvaccinated. “We have to send this important signal to urge everyone to get vaccinated if you are eligible,” health minister Ong Ye Kung said at a news conference on Monday, as the New York Times reports. Currently, 85% of the country’s population (ages 12 and over) is fully vaccinated, according to the Ministry of Health. And in every age group between the age of 12 and 79, at least 90% of people are vaccinated (with only 86% of those 80 and up fully immunized).
The new policy was rolled out alongside other changes (such as a loosening of travel and gathering restrictions on fully vaccinated people) in a review of the ongoing “stabilization phase” of the country’s gradual and highly regulated return to normalcy. While Singapore has generally fared relatively well during the pandemic, the country experienced a record surge this fall, largely driven by the delta variant, according to Reuters. The Ministry of Health says that increased vaccination and the rollout of boosters have helped stabilize community spread and case numbers in the country, and overall progress is very good.
Still, the total number of COVID-19 hospitalizations “remains high,” with ICU utilization hovering around 70%, and unvaccinated people “continue to disproportionately make up the bulk of severe and ICU cases,” according to the Ministry of Health’s statement. A senior minister of state said at a press conference Monday that 134 of approximately 280 ICU beds designated for COVID-19 patients are currently occupied, with the majority of patients in those beds unvaccinated, according to the Times. Meanwhile, health care workers “continue to be stretched,” the official said.