Government will shoulder bigger share of health bills

Current review will guarantee that but co-payment will remain an integral part

There are two guaranteed outcomes in the ongoing review of the health-care financing framework, said Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Grace Fu on Sunday.

First, the Government will shoulder a larger proportion of health-care bills in the future. But, making individuals pay a portion so they take responsibility for their own health will remain an integral part of the funding system.

Singapore will not move towards a universal health-care system like in Europe or Australia, she said, while facing a barrage of health-care concerns in a dialogue with Jalan Kayu residents.

Such a system encourages over-consumption of health care and leaves the bill for the next generation, and Australia provided a stark warning of this.

There, an optician will ask a customer how many pairs of new glasses they want, she said.

"What is happening in other countries allows us to look at the problems if we move in that direction," she elaborated to reporters after the 90-minute dialogue, referring to the unsustainable debt that European governments have chalked up.

"While we look at increasing the Government's share, we must also be mindful that we do not fall into the same hole.

"Co-payment is an integral part of the overall funding system (in Singapore)."

Earlier, one resident had said that her subsidised bill for a procedure at a public hospital here was twice what her friend had paid at a private hospital in another country.

Another lamented that to tap Medifund - government aid for the low-income - one must have first "wiped out" the Medisave accounts of family members.

A third complained that his friend had to wait over a day for admission to hospital.

Ms Fu said that such delays would not occur if someone's condition is critical, and asked those with non-critical conditions to be patient.

She said that the bed shortage problem would be alleviated once the 10 new hospitals planned by 2030 open.

That health care is more expensive here compared to other countries in the region is inevitable, she said, adding that international drug companies charge more for their products in Singapore compared to developing countries.

The 90-minute dialogue, attended by about 350 residents, came at the tail-end of Ms Fu's walkabout in Ang Mo Kio GRC, part of a series of ministerial community visits.

One resident also charged that the Government was running Singapore like a company, a point Ms Fu, an MP for Yuhua, swiftly refuted.

"We are not capitalist at all," she said, pointing especially to the large subsidies the Government gives to Singaporeans so that they can own their homes.

But there are some aspirations that the Government cannot fully meet, she said, like car ownership or lower-density living. But it can mitigate these by, for instance, improving the public transport system, she added.

Referring to the recent Population White Paper projection of a 6.9 million population in 2030, Ms Fu pointed out that this is a 30 per cent increase from the current figure.

But, the rail network will expand by 56 per cent in the same period.

"This gives you a sense of the kind of planning that's being put in place," she said.

During her visit, which was hosted by Ang Mo Kio GRC MP Intan Azura Mokhtar, Ms Fu also presided over the launch of new initiative "Progress".

It aims to help Ang Mo Kio and Sengkang West residents who are in arrears on their service and conservancy charges.