SINGAPORE - The Ministry of Health (MOH) will review claim limits - which cap MediShield Life coverage and Medisave payment - more regularly, around every three years or so, said Mr Edwin Tong, Senior Minister of State for Health.
Currently, the plan is to review these limits every five years.
Mr Tong promised more regular reviews after the issue of how a patient received only $4.50 from MediShield Life for his subsidised bill of $4,477 was raised in Parliament on Tuesday (Jan 15).
The case of Mr Seow Ban Yam, 83, who underwent surgery at the Singapore National Eye Centre (SNEC), was first reported in The Straits Times.
Mr Tong said MOH will "redouble" its efforts to keep healthcare costs and sustainable and affordable and "keep a close watch on public healthcare costs".
He also said that should the current review exercise, which started last year, be completed ahead of time, revisions will be announced earlier.
Mr Tong said such a review "requires a careful assessment of the appropriate claim limits and also the consequential impact it may have on premiums, to ensure that the coverage of MediShield Life remains broad-based and sustainable".
He was replying to questions from Ms Tin Pei Ling (MacPherson) and Mr Murali Pillai (Bukit Batok ) on whether MediShield Life provides adequate coverage.
Mr Tong told the House that the MOH had asked the SNEC to review its charges.
"Following the review, SNEC has decided to scale down its fees for this procedure (which Mr Seow underwent) and a number of other complex procedures with higher fees, and will do so from 1 March 2019," he said.
The number of subsidised bills that fall within MediShield Life claim limits has fallen from nine out of 10, to eight out of 10. Mr Tong explained that one reason for this is increased healthcare costs.
But even so, about half those bills top the MediShield Life claim limits by $230 or less.
Without claim limits, the premiums for MediShield Life, which insures people based on subsidised rates, will go up significantly by 30 per cent or more, he said.
He added: "Rather than impose this on all Singaporeans across the board, those who prefer to have higher coverage and are willing to pay higher premiums can consider private Integrated Shield Plans which can include 'As-Charged' features that cover 100 per cent of the bill."
Mr Tong also promised that in reviewing claim limits, "we will ensure that it is in tandem with the cost" and that it also tracks inflationary cost for the healthcare sector.
Mr Pillai asked if public healthcare institutes check with the ministry when setting their prices. To this, Mr Tong said there are "several hundred thousand bills", so it is not possible for the MOH to look at every bill.
But he added there are guidelines and benchmarks and assured that "we will constantly look at that and keep that within a range that fits in with the philosophy of MediShield Life".
He also promised: "We will continue to review, refine and strengthen MediShield Life and other components of our public healthcare financing system, and just as importantly, manage our healthcare costs to ensure that public healthcare remains affordable for all Singaporeans."