Singapore's ageing population, along with medical advancements and increased operating costs, are the key drivers of rising healthcare costs, said Senior Minister of State Koh Poh Koon yesterday.
Managing these costs requires a sustained effort over many years, he added, stressing that there is no "silver bullet".
He was responding to Ms Ng Ling Ling (Ang Mo Kio GRC) on the factors driving up healthcare costs in Singapore. The issue has come under the spotlight in recent months, following the Health Ministry's announcement in September that MediShield Life premiums are set to go up next year.
Around two-thirds of the premium increase will go towards funding rising payouts under the scheme, which are partly driven by higher healthcare costs.
From 2012 to 2017, Singapore's national healthcare expenditure increased from $13 billion to $22 billion, at a rate of about 11 per cent each year.
In Parliament yesterday, Dr Koh noted that older patients tend to have multiple ailments and complications, which typically require more medical attention and longer hospital stays. Last year, those aged 65 and above stayed 6.9 days in public hospitals on average, compared with 3.9 days for younger patients.
"Therefore, as we grow older, we are likely to spend more on healthcare," Dr Koh said. "And collectively, as we have increasingly more older persons in our population, our overall expenditure on healthcare will also rise."
With advancements in medical technology, previously untreated conditions may now become treatable and older, cheaper treatments may be replaced by better, more expensive ones, he added.
Lastly, operating costs - including manpower, which accounts for about 60 per cent of healthcare costs - may rise over time.
Dr Koh added that Singapore already has measures in place to prevent healthcare costs from surging. For instance, it set up the Agency for Care Effectiveness to evaluate healthcare technologies and issue guidance on drugs. Two years ago, it also introduced fee benchmarks for common surgical procedures.
It has also invested in raising the capacity and capability in other parts of the healthcare system, to ensure that people do not overuse expensive hospital care when it is not needed.
There are also substantial subsidies to help patients with healthcare costs, he said. "We will ensure that Singaporeans will always have access to good quality healthcare that is appropriate and affordable."