Employers can soon buy primary care plans to cover migrant workers' medical costs

SINGAPORE – Companies that employ migrant workers here will soon be able to buy primary care plans to cover the workers’ healthcare costs.

The plans, ranging from $108 to $145 per worker a year, will be offered by four healthcare providers.  They have been appointed to run six regional medical centres here as part of a new primary healthcare network that was announced earlier this year.

Manpower Minister Tan See Leng said on Monday (Nov 29) that employers can pay for them in monthly instalments.

More details on the payment mechanism will be announced at a later date.

This money will be used to cover the cost of medical examinations for work pass purposes, medical consultations and treatments, annual health screening and telemedicine, and other services for the more than 250,000 migrant workers here.

The prices of the plans will depend on where the workers live, and are based on the competitive bids submitted under a tender that was put out in September.

To encourage prudent use of medical resources and instil personal ownership of their own health, migrant workers will also need to fork out $5 for each visit to the medical centre as co-payment and $2 for each telemedicine session, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) said.

Under the new system, healthcare will be delivered in six geographical sectors, each housing at least 40,000 migrant workers, both in and out of dormitories.

Each sector will be anchored by a regional medical centre, complemented by four on-site medical centres in larger dorms, at least two mobile clinical teams per sector and round-the-clock telemedicine consultations.

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The new system is expected to be implemented in the second quarter of next year, according to the MOM’s September tender.

Dr Tan had previously described it as a “hub-and-spoke” model.

Five of the six sectors will be managed by private healthcare providers – 14 have submitted proposals – and one has been set aside for a non-governmental organisation (NGO) with medical expertise and support from philanthropy funding.

Fullerton Healthcare Group, Sata CommHealth and StarMed Specialist Centre were on Monday appointed to operate the five sectors allocated to private healthcare firms, while the NGO-run centre, operated by St Andrew’s Mission Hospital (SAMH), is already up and running at a temporary site in Penjuru.

The new centres will succeed 13 existing centres that have been up and running since August last year.

MOM said migrant workers will be automatically enrolled with the operator in charge of the sector where they live. There will also be designated general practitioner clinics that will support the new healthcare network.

Tender documents had said that healthcare at the new medical centres should be provided in a way that minimises any cultural and language barriers.

To ensure this, MOM said the four appointed operators will put in place IT-enabled multilingual translation capabilities and employ healthcare workers who can speak the native languages of the migrant workers.

In addition, operators must ensure that they charge below or the same for services as prescribed by MOM, according to the tender.

For instance, consultations should cost between $9 and $20, while standard medication or treatment for complex chronic conditions should cost no more than $55.

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A new purpose-built facility at Penjuru Recreation Centre, near Teban Gardens, will replace the temporary medical centre there.

Launching in the first quarter of next year, the centre is a one-stop primary care facility for about 57,000 workers in the Penjuru area, including Choa Chu Kang, Jurong West and Pasir Panjang.

The migrant workers will not only be able to see a doctor for common ailments or injuries, they can also get their teeth checked, have X-rays taken or seek counselling.

The new Penjuru centre will be funded by donations from the estates of late hotelier Khoo Teck Puat and late real estate tycoon Ng Teng Fong.

The donations, totalling $20 million, will also go to a new migrant worker charity called MigrantWell Singapore, and a welfare fund that will support it.

The Singapore Business Federation’s social impact arm, SBF Foundation, is leading the project and aims to raise another $15 million from its members.

On Monday, the two donors, SBF Foundation, SAMH and MOM signed a memorandum of understanding on these initiatives.

It was witnessed by Dr Tan, Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Senior Minister of State for Health and Manpower Koh Poh Koon, and Mr Tan Boon Khai, chief executive of JTC Corporation, which owns Penjuru Recreation Centre.

Said SBF Foundation chairman Hsieh Fu Hua at the signing: “Like all of us, our migrant workers have felt the crushing impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.”

He added: “Despite the good support by the Government and multiple initiatives by NGOs so far, there is still more to do.” He cited issues such as a lack of affordable healthcare, limited support from employers, anxiety among workers over losing their jobs, and poor health awareness.

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The Penjuru centre and the larger healthcare network for migrant workers aim to resolve some of these issues.

SAMH group chief executive Arthur Chern said the hospital was approached to run the centre by the donors as it had the experience to do so.

Until the pandemic struck, St Andrew’s Community Hospital, which is under SAMH, had been operating a free mobile clinic at migrant worker dorms since 2012.

The temporary centre has been open since Aug 21 this year, and is manned by a team of 14 healthcare workers.

The new centre will be supported by volunteers from philanthropic organisations, tertiary healthcare institutions and the general public.

Meanwhile, of the new MigrantWell Singapore charity, SBF Foundation said it will partner community agencies to identify “care gaps” and develop guidelines on how the accompanying welfare fund will be used.

The foundation added that the fund will be used to support “niche care programmes”. No further details were given.

Said Mr Hsieh: “Through MigrantWell Singapore, SBF Foundation will expand our reach into the migrant worker community, a key part of our workforce that forms the backbone of many of our industries.”


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