Singapore to stop covering medical costs of ‘unvaccinated by choice’ Covid patients

Move comes as almost half of ICU beds occupied by mostly unvaccinated patients

Singapore will no longer cover the medical costs of Covid-19 patients who are eligible to get vaccinated against the virus but choose not to, the country’s health ministry says.

“We will begin charging Covid-19 patients who are unvaccinated by choice,” starting December 8th, the ministry said in a statement Monday. Those who are not eligible for the shots will be exempt from the rule, it said, including children under 12 and people with certain medical conditions.

The announcement came as the number of severe cases, which have been mainly among unvaccinated people, has stabilised but remains high, the ministry said. Of about 280 intensive-care beds for Covid patients, 134 are occupied, and most are among those not vaccinated, a senior minister of state, Janil Puthucheary, said at a news conference.

“We have to continue to try to keep this number as small as possible,” he said, since health care workers “continue to be stretched.” Singapore has vaccinated more than 80 per cent of its population, outpacing most other countries. But the sustained numbers of severe cases have put such a strain on Singapore’s health care system that officials said they would expand the overall hospital capacity to 4,000 hospital beds from 2,500 by the end of the month.

Most Covid patients vulnerable to severe illness and requiring intensive care are people ages 60 and older, Mr Puthucheary said. At least 6 per cent of people 60 and older in Singapore have yet to get shots, according to the Health Ministry. "We have to send this important signal to urge everyone to get vaccinated if you are eligible," health minister Ong Ye Kung said at the news conference.

Patients who are unvaccinated by choice may still use other health care financing options to pay their bills, such as government subsidies and private insurance, the health ministry added. Even for those who are unvaccinated, billing "will still be highly supported and highly subsidised," Mr Ong said.

Singapore will continue to cover partly vaccinated patients until December 31st to allow them time to get their second shots, the health ministry said.

To encourage vaccinations, the officials said they would also begin allowing five fully vaccinated people from any household to dine in restaurants together starting Wednesday, up from the two that are currently allowed. – This article originally appeared in The New York Times