SINGAPORE: An error in the computer system administered by NCS caused about 7,700 individuals to receive inaccurate healthcare and intermediate- and long-term care subsidies, the Ministry of Health (MOH) said on Saturday (Feb 16).
The affected individuals are among those whose applications or renewals of their Community Health Assist Scheme (CHAS) cards were processed from Sep 18 to Oct 10 last year.
The error arose in the computer system when it calculated means-test results.
The means-test system calculates the healthcare subsidies which individuals are eligible for, based on their income information. Healthcare subsidies are means-tested so that greater financial support is extended to lower-income households.
"The means-test and subsidy tiers for all affected individuals have been corrected by Feb 16, 2019,” MOH said.
MOH said no proactive action is required on the part of the affected people at this point. The ministry added that it is working closely with healthcare service providers and scheme administrators to reach out to those affected.
"About 6,400 individuals received higher subsidies than what they are eligible for. The total amount is estimated to be about S$2 million. MOH intends to recover from NCS the costs and expenses incurred as a result of this incident, as allowed for under our contract.
"About 1,300 individuals received lower subsidies than what they are eligible for. The total amount is estimated to be about S$400,000. This will be reimbursed to the affected individuals," MOH said.
MOH said discrepancies in the means-test results of a few CHAS cardholders were noticed by the CHAS card processing team in MOH Holdings when it was reviewing CHAS applications and appeals.
"We received three appeals for the group affected," MOH said.
The first case of discrepancy was detected on Sep 24, 2018 and NCS was alerted immediately, MOH said.
“The issue was initially attributed to intermittent network connection problems. Five more cases were subsequently detected between Oct 9 and Nov 2, and a more thorough investigation was initiated,” added the health ministry.
In late November, NCS traced the root cause of the discrepancies to a software version issue on a server used by the means-test system when it was migrated to another government data centre in September.
“This resulted in the means-test results being computed without the requisite income information. NCS further discovered that their deployment team had in fact fixed the software version issue earlier on Oct 10, 2018 in response to an unrelated slow performance issue.
“This stopped further cases of errors but it did not correct the means-test results that had been generated from Sep 18, 2018 to Oct 10, 2018,” MOH said.
CORRECT SUBSIDY TIERS RESTORED BY FEB 16
On Dec 5, MOH received NCS' assessment that the glitch could have affected thousands of people across multiple schemes.
Before making any public announcements, MOH said that it was important to rectify the root cause of the glitch in the system to prevent more inaccurate means-test results.
It was also important to fully establish the different groups of people and subsidies that were affected, and how they were affected, as well as limit the impact of inaccurate means-test results from affecting more schemes and individuals.
MOH added that it was important to have a clear rectification plan that can be deployed quickly after the announcement, to reach out to the affected individuals to inform and reimburse them, where applicable.
"If we do not do so, we could cause confusion and uncertainty, not just among the affected, but the larger group of unaffected. Scheme administrators and service providers will also face many queries for which they are unable to respond," MOH said.
MOH said that it worked with NCS from December to establish the extent of the impact, including the correct subsidy tiers for each individual under the different services and schemes. This was to determine who could have received higher or lower subsidies than what they were eligible for.
The final assessment was completed on Jan 14 and MOH worked with grant scheme administrators and healthcare institutions to finalise the remedial action plans, including how affected individuals will be informed and reimbursed.
The correct subsidy tiers of all affected individuals were restored by Feb 16.
Service providers and scheme administrators will now progressively inform the affected individuals and arrange for reimbursements where applicable.
“We expect all the affected individuals to be informed by mid-March 2019,” MOH said.
MOH said that NCS has acknowledged the error and has taken further remedial action by tightening the system deployment processes.
“Additional safeguards have been put in place to prevent any recurrence of such incidents. NCS has reiterated its commitment to being held to the highest standards as a service provider.
MOH takes a serious view of the incident, and has worked with NCS on appropriate remedial measures. MOH will work with NCS on measures to prevent such errors in the future,” the ministry stated.
NCS is an information and communications technology (ICT) and communications engineering services provider. It is a subsidiary of the Singtel Group.
According to its website, NCS offers services that include consulting, technology solutions, as well as systems development and integration.