Last year during haze season, I ended up in the emergency room at a local hospital with an eye infection.
The thing that stressed me out the most was not that I was made to wait for 7 hours till 4am, nor the fact that I could have faced a lifetime of pirate eyepatch-wearing had I come a day later, but rather the fact that I was bracing myself for a hefty medical bill.
Which is why when I read the commentary on the recommendations of panelists at the Straits Times Future Economy Roundtable on Healthcare, I was shaking my fist at the screen, hollering like a rabid football fan.
Because some of the suggestions have been exactly what I’ve been wishing and hoping for ever since healthcare costs in Singapore started spiralling out of control. Here are two suggestions that could really make the difference for all of us as we age.
Allow insurance claims in cheaper neighbouring countries
I don’t know about you, but I do not intend to retire in Singapore. Assuming I’m still alive by then, I don’t see myself in an overcrowded, stressful, and most importantly, expensive city. Retiring in a cheaper country would enable me to stop working years or even decades earlier.
Even if you don’t intend to leave Singapore permanently, there are many reasons you might seek healthcare abroad. Many Singaporeans already buy medication in Malaysia or Thailand, simply because it costs 30% to 50% the price. If you’ve got a chronic condition that needs to be treated constantly, you save a lot.
So the suggestion that MediShield Life and Integrated Shield Plans be extended to overseas treatments is a welcome one.
Johor Bahru nursing homes are already packed with sick and elderly Singaporeans, and allowing these people to make healthcare claims in Malaysia would really help. Unless, of course, the government intends to just let these people who are no longer contributing to the economy remain out of sight, out of mind.
Cover the cost of screening
One of the speakers mentioned that US insurance companies will cover the cost of screening, as this actually lowers the cost to the insurance company, since you’re less likely to get a more serious condition if you catch a health condition early.
While Singapore’s healthcare system does well when it comes to treating serious conditions and keeping sick people alive, we actually do quite poorly when it comes to primary healthcare—a large part of which is going for check-ups and screenings.
It’s quite telling that we have the world’s second highest rate of diabetes, and that kidney failure is also a serious problem here. Both are preventable, but the problem is that people just aren’t getting screened in time. This is going to be a serious drain on the healthcare system as the population ages.
Sure, the government has been harping on the importance of going for screening. But the problem is that many people are going to do less than is necessary to monitor their health, simply because it costs money.
While the more common types of screening are often subsidised, not many Singaporeans bother to go for routine check-ups. In fact, many avoid doctors until something goes wrong and they really have no choice. We’ve come to think of going to the doctor as a scary experience that ends off with a hefty bill.
Presently, Medisave cannot be used for screening except in certain isolated cases, such as mammograms for women above 50 and colonoscopies for those above 50. There are no subsidies for general screening available to the population at large.
Currently, a full screening packages at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital cost $98 to $498, which are not small sums. If the cost of screening could be not only covered by MediShield Life but made compulsory, the healthcare burden the silver tsunami will impose in a couple of years might not be quite so heavy.
What other changes do you want to see in Singapore’s healthcare system? Tell us in the comments!