Room for Medisave 'to go up a little bit'

SINGAPORE - Medisave contributions could be raised as a means of helping Singaporeans cope with their health-care costs, along with the right type of spending.

The idea was raised by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong when he was asked about what measures were being put in place to keep health care affordable.

The Government, he said, will ensure that the system - anchored by Medisave, MediShield and Medifund - stays updated, possibly by increasing Medisave contributions and enhancing MediShield.

Workers now have to put between 7 per cent and 9.5 per cent of their incomes into their Medisave accounts - depending on their age - which they can use to offset hospital and other medical bills.

The Medisave Minimum Sum - the minimum amount people must leave in Medisave when they withdraw their Central Provident Fund (CPF) savings - was raised to $38,500 from $36,000 in July.

Said the Prime Minister: "We've increased the Medisave contributions and I think, when next we have a chance, we should push the Medisave contribution up a little bit more."

But he also stressed that while the Government is committed to spending more on health care, this was not a solution in itself.

"I think overall we will need to spend more in terms of budget, government money, but also spend more in terms of individual savings," he said.

"But remember that if you spend a lot of money, it doesn't mean you have a good outcome."

That meant ensuring that money goes to "necessary" health care, and not to procedures that are unnecessary or counterproductive, such as administration.

The Government's health care spending currently amounts to 1.6 per cent of GDP.

Mr Lee noted that Singapore was on the right track when it comes to generating positive outcomes, and cited a Bloomberg study that ranked the Republic as the healthiest country in the world.

But he acknowledged concerns about rising costs, especially with "terrifying" stories reported of bills running into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

However, he noted, further investigations usually find "some other story behind it", such as a patient undergoing multiple or non-standard treatments.

"It's very seldom that you have somebody who cannot afford it," he said. "We very seldom have people come to us because they have a medical bill that they want our help to waive... or to adjust."

Singaporeans do have enough in their Medisave - backed by the Medifund and MediShield - to pay for the treatments, said Mr Lee.

Asked if the Government would be able to push for unpopular higher taxes to pay for increased spending on health care in the future, Mr Lee said he hoped the population would "have that good sense to elect leaders who would tell them unpalatable truths".

"That's one of the things we're concerned about because the older generation who came through Independence, they have seen very unstable, turbulent, difficult times," he said,

"They know how many things can go wrong. And they would say, if somebody offered them something for free, they would say: 'Siao, crazy! Where is it anything which will fall for free from heaven like manna?'"

aaronl@sph.com.sg


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