'Three things' can keep a lid on costs

'Three things' can keep a lid on costs
MediShield Life Review Committee chairman Bobby Chin (left) and committee member Patrick Lee leaving the Parliament House yesterday. Health Minister Gan Kim Yong thanked the 11-member committee yesterday for their hard work.

The key to a good health-care system is "getting the best outcome at the lowest cost possible", said Health Minister Gan Kim Yong yesterday, as he outlined what his ministry will do to achieve it.

In his opening address in Parliament for the debate on the MediShield Life Review Committee Report, Mr Gan said the hallmarks of a good system are that it achieves high quality, is cost-effective, accessible to all and sustainable for future generations.

This is why it is important to have patients co-pay big hospital bills as it "imposes discipline on both providers and patients to focus on the most clinically appropriate and cost-effective option".

If there was minimal or no co-payment, patients are more likely to consume more and providers would supply more but, he added: "More does not necessarily mean better."

Worse, the resulting higher costs will have to be paid for by everyone else, either in the form of higher premiums or taxes.

Mr Gan said his ministry will work with the community, health-care providers and insurers on the three things needed to keep a lid on health-care costs.

The first is to keep everyone healthy: "We will work with community partners to make healthy living as effortless as possible."

Next is to ensure health-care dollars are spent wisely: "Providers should not prescribe more costly tests and treatments simply because patients are covered by insurance, if these provide limited value."

Third is to manage the claims on MediShield Life insurance, which will cover everyone for life.

This includes taking "a closer and harder look at charging practices".

Today, bills for hospital treatment for more common problems are already published on the ministry's website, so the public can compare the charges.

"The Government will do more," Mr Gan said.

It will work with the five insurers offering Integrated Shield Plans to share information on unusually large bills, and see if there is "a certain pattern of claims or behaviour by health-care providers".

To ensure MediShield Life is accessible to all, the Government will subsidise according to need, hence the amount of subsidy will be pegged at income or, where there is no income, on the annual value of a person's residence.

The new scheme also has to be sustainable or "our children's generation will be paying for the bulk of our health-care costs when we are old", he said.

Managing costs and keeping the national insurance scheme sustainable is the responsibility of the Government, insurers and patients alike.

The minister thanked the 11-member committee, some of whom were present in Parliament yesterday, for their hard work.

In conclusion, he said: "MediShield Life goes beyond health-care and insurance.

"It is a reflection of the kind of society we want to build: a more inclusive society where we pool our resources together to help the sick among us; and a more caring and progressive society, where those who are needy receive more help."

SALMA KHALIK


This article was first published on July 9, 2014.
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