Managing healthcare

Battling costs, improving care

Dampening healthcare inflation is crucial as it has been rising at almost 50 per cent above general inflation over the past decade

The problem facing the healthcare system here is not the quality of care given, which remains among the best in the world. The strains on the system come from the rapidly escalating cost of such care, and rising demand from an ageing population.

Some steps will be taken to address both next year and time will tell if they succeed.

But they should at the very least dampen healthcare inflation, which over the past decade has been rising at almost 50 per cent above general inflation, and also led to an easing in the high demand for beds.

In tackling the rising cost of healthcare, the Ministry of Health (MOH) announced plans at the end of last month to release benchmarks for what it considers "reasonable fees" that doctors in private practice should charge for various treatments.

A five-bed ward at Singapore General Hospital. Last year witnessed a record increase in the number of people warded, as well as those seeking treatment at public specialist clinics and polyclinics. In the first 10 months of this year, admissions to public hospitals went up by about 5 per cent over the same period last year. ST FILE PHOTO

While doctors will not be compelled to use the recommended fees, the benchmarks will allow patients and the Singapore Medical Council, the professional medical watchdog, to more easily ascertain overcharging.

Since fee guidelines were removed a decade ago because they were deemed anti-competition, the fees charged in the private sector have soared in some cases.

For example, how much should you be expected to pay for the removal of a polyp from the cervix - $1,300 or $4,300?

  • EASING THE STRAIN

  • 1 ESCALATING COST

    Since fee guidelines were removed a decade ago because they were deemed anti-competition, the fees charged in the private sector have soared in some cases. To address the situation, the Ministry of Health (MOH) will introduce a fee benchmark next year.

    2 RISING DEMAND FROM AN AGEING POPULATION 

    The MOH continues to open up more facilities to meet the rising demand. Both the Sengkang general and community hospitals are slated to open in the second half of next year, bringing healthcare closer to those living and working in the north-west. They will have a combined capacity of 1,400 beds. 

There are doctors charging both for the same procedure. In fact, some charge even more than $4,300. This is just the surgeon's fee and does not include other costs.

With a benchmark, it would be clear whether doctors are giving massive discounts or overcharging.

According to the MOH, half of the private specialists charge $2,140 or less for that procedure. Should that be the benchmark? Would those charging more reduce their fees?

That is what everyone is waiting to see once the benchmarks are introduced next year.

Meanwhile, the MOH continues to open up more facilities to meet the rising demand.

Last year witnessed a record increase in the number of people warded, as well as those seeking treatment at public specialist clinics and polyclinics.

Both the Sengkang general and community hospitals are slated to open in the second half of next year, bringing healthcare closer to those living and working in the north-west.

They will have a combined capacity of 1,400 beds, which should ease the demand for Changi General Hospital in the east, Tan Tock Seng Hospital in the centre and Khoo Teck Puat Hospital in the north.

In the first 10 months of this year, admissions to public hospitals went up by about 5 per cent over the same period last year.

Other new facilities opening next year include the National Centre for Infectious Diseases in Novena and a new polyclinic in Ang Mo Kio.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 27, 2017, with the headline ' Battling costs, improving care'. Print Edition | Subscribe