Why It Matters

Keeping a lid on healthcare costs

With insurers inundated by more health insurance claims, it is no surprise that premiums have gone up over the years.

In fact, those on integrated plans (IPs) are likely to see their premiums go up even more in the months to come. Although the five IP insurers pledged not to raise premiums for 12 months after the introduction of MediShield Life last year, that moratorium will be lifted next month.

It is no wonder then that the Health Insurance Task Force felt the need to release a 54-page report last week, with detailed recommendations to keep escalating costs down. The proposals included introducing medical fee guidelines and making consumers pay co-insurance or deductibles, rather than having everything covered by riders.

The task force also suggested establishing panels of preferred healthcare providers, and getting insurers to pre-approve treatments to make sure they are medically necessary.

Currently, many people have add-ons such as riders, meaning they do not have to pay out-of-pocket when medical bills come in. This leads to two problems.

First, some people adopt a "buffet mentality" - becoming careless about the kind of procedures they sign up for, no matter their cost. More worryingly, it is possible that some doctors may encourage people to go for treatments that they do not strictly need, since the doctors know that their patients will not be footing the bill.

In fact, the task force noted that patients with riders run up bills that are 20 per cent to 25 per cent higher than bills for those who have to bear part of the cost.

And when insurers receive these large claims more and more frequently, it is inevitable that premiums for everyone in this group will go up as well.

Already, healthcare costs are going up because of Singapore's ageing population, which requires more treatment. New technology, too, does not come cheap. It is therefore critical to rein in runaway costs where we can.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 18, 2016, with the headline 'Keeping a lid on healthcare costs'. Print Edition | Subscribe