Fee guidelines make medical charges more transparent

Mr Paul Chan Poh Hoi hit the nail squarely on the head when he pointed out that the sharp increase in overall healthcare costs of more than 30 per cent over a 10-year period corresponded with the abolishment of Singapore Medical Association fee guidelines in 2007 (Benchmarks for medical fees need more teeth; Jan 19).

Prior to the removal of the benchmarks, majority of private practice doctors kept their fees around the mid-point of the scale.

Once the limit for fees became discretionary, most clinicians billed without a care in the world.

Unfortunately, those doctors who already had a tendency to charge on the upper end of the scale have been testing how high they can go.

Formal fee guidelines for consultations and outpatient treatments may be only for general reference. But these recommended prices do empower patients to make more informed choices when selecting the best option.

Critics of the publication of medical charges opine that a fee threshold may impel doctors to charge at the upper end.

However, patients will notice straightaway that these clinicians are more expensive, but would be able to take some comfort in that there is a limit to what these clinicians can charge.

According to current Ministry of Health data, the price for a breast lump removal for private patients ranges from a modest $594 at certain restructured hospitals to a staggering $10,185 at premium private hospitals.

Wouldn't formal fee guidelines serve to sieve out doctors and hospitals which routinely test the limits of the market?

A reintroduction of fee guidelines, though passive in nature, will increase the transparency of medical charges.

Edmund Khoo Kim Hock

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 24, 2018, with the headline 'Fee guidelines make medical charges more transparent'. Print Edition | Subscribe