MOH to work with insurance companies to keep premiums affordable

SINGAPORE - The Ministry of Health (MOH) will work with insurance companies to "improve and strengthen their claims process" so people will not end up paying high premiums.

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said the ministry is seeing how it can implement some of the recommendations from the Health Insurance Task Force report released in 2016, which highlighted the sharp rise in claims - a major driver of healthcare costs here.

Said Mr Gan: "We want to give the assurance and ensure that premiums are sustainable in the long term and don't result in excessive claims."

One of the task force recommendations is to provide benchmarks for professional fees "given the urgency to manage escalation of healthcare costs".

Mr Gan said in an interview with the local media this week that MOH will come up with benchmarks of what are reasonable fees for doctors to charge.

The fee benchmarks, which should be available in 2018, would help patients know how much they are expected to pay, and help doctors decide on what are reasonable fees to charge.

Mr Gan said the benchmarks could also help insurers know what are the reasonable reimbursement rates for treatments.

The introduction of the benchmarks is one part of a three-prong strategy by MOH to ensure people continue to receive quality healthcare here that is sustainable.

The strategy includes: continued care for patients once they are discharged from hospital; ensuring good value for quality care; and programmes for people to stay healthier for longer.

Mr Gan hopes the strategy would help slow down spiralling healthcare costs which are expected to soar as new and expensive medical treatments hit the market amid greater demand for elective treatments with better access to healthcare, and an ageing population.

Besides the benchmarks, the ministry has also ramped up its building programmes with more hospitals, nursing homes and polyclinics coming online within the next few years.

New hospitals, like the one in Sengkang which opens in 2018, will work closely with general practice clinics and polyclinics to ensure that discharged patients continue to get the care they need.

"We want to enhance their (patients) support in the community so they can be cared for in the community for longer, to minimise their need for readmission," said Mr Gan.

All public hospitals will also offer programmes to care for at-risk patients beyond the hospital. Sometimes, the help goes beyond healthcare. This is why the Agency for Integrated Care works closely with social agencies and welfare organisations.

Said Mr Gan: "From the patient's point of view, it doesn't matter whether it is social or healthcare. They just need support."

Singapore is acknowledged internationally as having good quality healthcare. The next step is to ensure that such quality is achieved at the best value for money.

The Agency for Care Effectiveness (ACE) - the national health technology assessment agency under MOH - was set up to help doctors and patients pick cost-effective, proven or superior drugs. The team studies what is available on the market, checks out how well they work and how much they cost.

A more expensive drug might give better value than a cheaper one. But sometimes, two drugs give similar results but differ significantly in costs. The team looks at the long-term benefit to assess the value of a drug.

The third arm of keeping healthcare affordable is keeping people healthy. Mr Gan said this is where it is hoped that the heavily subsidised health screening programme launched this year, as well as the "War on Diabetes", can make a difference, not just to healthcare cost, but also to quality of life for people here.

The strategy builds on other initiatives introduced earlier to manage healthcare costs. They include: the setting up MediShield Life which covers everyone from birth till death, both healthy and sick; financial help for the Pioneer Generation; and higher drug subsidies at polyclinics and public hospital specialist outpatient clinics.

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