The following article was published by SPH Media Limited on The Straits Times here.
SINGAPORE – Almost four in 10 of 370,000 foreign workers have been enrolled in a primary care plan (PCP) to cover their healthcare costs since it was made compulsory from April for them.
Providing an update on the PCP’s uptake on Friday (June 3), Manpower Minister Tan See Leng said workers on the plan can expect to be taken care of by a dedicated healthcare team.
“It builds stronger doctor-patient relationships and with a view to achieve better health outcomes in the longer term.”
Introduced last November, the PCP scheme will cover the cost of most primary healthcare needs of foreign workers, including medical examinations for work pass purposes, medical consultations and treatments, annual health screenings and telemedicine.
The cost of a PCP ranges from $108 to $138 per worker a year, which can be paid in regular monthly instalments to the healthcare provider in charge of the area the migrant worker lives in.
Since April, employers must buy a PCP for foreign workers in the construction, marine and process sectors, as well as those living in dormitories. There are 370,000 of such workers.
Dr Tan, who is also Second Minister for Trade and Industry, was speaking at the opening ceremony for the StarMed Medical Centre for Migrant Workers in Farrer Park on Friday evening.
The StarMed centre, which is located within the outpatient StarMed Specialist Centre, will provide care to about 43,000 migrant workers in the central-east region of Singapore.
The PCP scheme divides Singapore into six sectors and designates a regional medical centre for foreign workers living in each sector.
Four “anchor operators” run the six centres. Charitable healthcare organisation Sata Commhealth runs three centres, while StarMed Specialist Centre, Fullerton Healthcare Group and St Andrew’s Mission Hospital operate one each.
All six have been in operation since April, but the StarMed centre is the second to be formally launched, after St Andrew’s Migrant Worker Medical Centre located at Penjuru Recreation Centre, which Dr Tan officially opened back in February.
Facilities at the StarMed centre include six rooms for consultation and treatment, as well as separate waiting areas for those with fever symptoms and those without. The centre of 14 staff sees 40 to 50 patients each day, and has seen around 1,500 in total.
Dr Tan noted that being located in the same place as the StarMed Specialist Centre means workers who need care services beyond the scope of the primary care plan offered by StarMed can follow up with specialist care or allied health services conveniently at one location.
Citing a piece of wisdom from the professors who taught him during his medical training, Dr Tan said doctors “cure seldom, (but) we relieve often, and we comfort always”, underscoring the need for holistic healthcare for the workers.
“(This) includes providing health education, preventive health services, as well as care for acute and chronic conditions for all workers enrolled with this plan.
“To minimise language and cultural barriers to care, the centre will also augment local healthcare teams with healthcare workers who understand our workers’ cultural backgrounds and also speak their native languages.”
StarMed Specialist Centre chief executive Louis Tan said 2 per cent of all foreign workers seen in primary care may need specialist attention, but less than a quarter of them eventually see a specialist.
The centre launched a pilot specialist care plan that builds on the PCP. Ten employers have come on board.
“Treating complex medical issues early can avoid expensive and time-consuming hospital admissions and doing so will have a positive impact on the health and productivity of workers and companies respectively.”