$1,000 fee for 120-word medical report

SINGAPORE - At least three foreign workers who wanted copies of their medical records were charged between $850 and $1,000 by an orthopaedic surgeon in private practice, two help groups and a law firm told The Straits Times (ST).

That is more than five times the fees charged for similar records at some restructured hospitals.

ST was shown copies of three invoices issued to Chinese workers by Dr Kevin Yip for copies of a "specialist medical report". In one case, the charge was cut sharply after the migrant workers group queried it.

These reports - usually giving details of a worker's injury - help workers when they seek a second medical opinion or lodge compensation claims for worksite injuries, especially if their employer has not reported the accident to the Ministry of Manpower.

Restructured hospitals charge between $160 and $200 for similar reports issued by their specialists.

Dr Yip, from the Singapore Sports and Orthopaedic Clinic at Gleneagles Medical Centre, could not be reached for comment despite repeated e-mails and phone calls last week, and a visit to his clinic last Friday afternoon.

He was the subject of Singapore Medical Council (SMC) investigations after migrant workers group Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics complained that he had given insufficient medical leave to injured foreign workers and queried if that was so their employers could avoid reporting their accidents. The SMC dismissed those complaints earlier this year.

The Sunday Times understands that Dr Yip is facing a new probe by the Ministry of Health, following a complaint forwarded by the Ministry of Manpower concerning treatment of foreign workers. But this does not concern medical leave or charges for medical reports, The Sunday Times understands.

Migrant worker group Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) highlighted the issue of the high charges for medical reports after helping a Chinese worker earlier this year.

Construction worker Wang Cunbo, 42, who fractured his left thumb last October when a steel bar fell on it, sought TWC2's help in May this year to get his medical records from Dr Yip's clinic.

TWC2 social worker Raymond Ang said Mr Wang had tried twice to get his records. In late May, he accompanied Mr Wang to the clinic to ask for the report again.

Mr Wang subsequently received an invoice asking for $1,016.50. Mr Ang said he was shocked and called the clinic to ask why the charges were so high.

"I was told that was the standard rate," he said.

He then called the SMC to ask if there were any fee guidelines on how much a report could cost, and was asked to visit the council's office with all the documents.

Before he could do that (and after another call to the clinic protesting against the fee), the clinic lowered the amount to $428. TWC2 paid for the report.

Another invoice obtained by The Sunday Times was for a report of another worker from China and states the same initial charge: $1,016.50.

The law firm making the compensation claim on behalf of that worker said it paid for the 120-word report in February and later recovered the money from the insurer.

In a third case handled by migrant workers' group Healthserve last year, a worker from China was charged $856 for a 160-word report.

Healthserve executive director Tang Shin Yong said medical documents should be made more accessible to low-wage migrant workers. "These documents are records of their own medical condition and they should not be charged exorbitant fees," he said.

"This is especially important as they usually need these documents to seek a second opinion or to file or reassess compensation claims."

There are no laws or regulations on how much a doctor can charge, but in a recent judgment, the Court of Appeal upheld the SMC's stance that there should be an "ethical limit" on fees.

radhab@sph.com.sg


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