The Straits Times says

Analysing healthcare by the numbers

News that almost double was paid out to meet claims after MediShield Life was implemented was not surprising given its universal coverage. What's needed is granularity of data over a full year, when it's available. All stakeholders will find it useful to access such information annually via the national insurance scheme's website. For the benefit of ordinary Singaporeans, sufficient analysis of key indicators ought to be provided, together with answers to questions that people are likely to pose. This is, after all, a major shift in health policy and ought to be tracked closely to understand its impact on different groups. For example, it is now not known how many are benefiting among the old or sick who were not covered before.

Over $600 million was disbursed to cover claims between last November and September this year. The premiums collected came to $1.75 billion for the 11 months from the launch of Medi- Shield Life a year ago. People paid between $130 and $1,530 for basic coverage, depending on their age, and almost half of the premiums were subsidised by the Government. The Government had earlier provided nearly $4 billion for the subsidies and other support for five years. Considerable personal resources (in the form of savings in Medi- save accounts and cash) will also be expended to fund this scheme, with some paying 30 per cent more in premiums for the first 10 years because they have a serious pre-existing disease.

These are good reasons to monitor key data relating to MediShield Life, which will cover every Singaporean and permanent resident for life. Its focus is on shielding people from large hospital bills, particularly at the Class B2 and C level, as these can have a major impact on ordinary families and disrupt their lives. Many with elders to care for will be vulnerable as the number of seniors more than doubles between now and 2030. As health needs rise, one can expect calls over time for greater protection in the form of more Medi- Shield Life benefits. However, these will affect premium costs and raise questions of affordability. The availability of data will help people to appreciate how the balance ought to be struck.

Similarly, transparency can help to check escalating health costs. There is merit in the Health Insurance Task Force's argument for "a major nationwide exercise" to standardise the collection of medical charges, by an independent body, in order to compile fee benchmarks or guidelines. Greater cost consciousness might result when all public and private sector players are obliged to furnish such data regularly for public dissemination. Such data can reveal to consumers instances of overcharging and offer insurers the means to use preferred healthcare providers who manage their costs better, as recommended by the task force. As in many other areas, big data ought to be harnessed to derive better solutions in health.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 03, 2016, with the headline 'Analysing healthcare by the numbers'. Print Edition | Subscribe