Panels come under scrutiny

Panels have become a hot issue of late, with doctors and insurers battling over the implementation of the measure.

Doctors said for many insurers, private specialists account for just 21 per cent of all doctors on their panels, that the selection criteria are opaque, and most do not respect both the higher and lower limits of fee benchmarks.

Integrated Shield Plan (IP) insurers said the panels are a way to help rein in rising costs and keep the IP sector sustainable. Doctors on their panels have to agree to the fees set by the insurers.

Meanwhile, insurers are in the midst of moving policyholders to new co-payment riders when their full riders expire. Riders that help cover entire bills are being phased out. These policyholders must accept the concept of panel doctors if they want to control the co-payment amount of at least 5 per cent. They get a co-payment cap if they see a panel doctor; otherwise, they may not get a cap, among other differences.

The Life Insurance Association (LIA) Singapore said yesterday that panels are valid and have value. They were among the measures recommended by the Health Insurance Task Force to help address the overcharging, over-servicing and over-treatment in the healthcare sector, which impacted costs.

Most IP insurers started to introduce doctor panels from 2017, and have been expanding them.

The LIA said each IP insurer now has around 250 to 400 private specialists on its panel, up from 200 to 350 in March last year and 150 to 290 in March 2019.

Panels may be new to many IP policyholders, but the idea is not new, and most people in the workforce would be familiar with the idea of seeing a company doctor, said the LIA. The underlying concept of a panel involves the insurer using its bargaining power to negotiate preferential rates from healthcare providers in exchange for higher volumes, it said.

The Singapore Medical Association said it is not against the use of panels, but it wants more doctors to be included and the insurers to respect the whole range of fee benchmarks published by the Ministry of Health.

Joyce Teo

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 03, 2021, with the headline 'Panels come under scrutiny'. Subscribe