6 more hospitals, lower medical bills

SINGAPORE - Six more general hospitals and up to 14 more polyclinics will be built by 2030 as the Ministry of Health (MOH) ramps up facilities to meet growing demands of a larger population that is fast greying.

The Government will also pay a greater share of health-care bills, up from the current 30 per cent to 40 per cent or more, said Health Minister Gan Kim Yong on Friday.

Speaking during Friday's parliamentary debate on his ministry's budget, Mr Gan said the major health-care financing review the ministry is currently undertaking also aims to increase insurance coverage for Singaporeans.

With both Government and insurance taking on a bigger share of health-care costs in future, people should be able to use less cash or Medisave balances to meet their health-care bills, he said. This will give people "peace of mind", even as health-care costs continue to go up.

Mr Gan outlined these major moves in a speech that touched on immediate improvements to the health-care system as well as longer-term fundamental shifts.

Outlining the thinking behind the review, Mr Gan said the current system - consisting of government subsidies and the "3M" framework of Medisave, MediShield and Medifund - has served Singapore well so far, but needs strengthening.

The idea is to "reduce the impact of rising health-care costs on Singaporeans, especially the lower- and middle-income", he said.

But the ministry will also look carefully at how to better utilise any additional spending, added Mr Gan.

"Today, the bulk of our subsidies go towards hospitals, where the cost per episode is high," he noted. "As our population ages, delivery of health care will increasingly extend beyond hospitals."

More targeted help can be given to alleviate the high cost of outpatient care and long-term care, he suggested, as well as preventive care that will keep Singaporeans healthy and out of hospital.

Another key area up for review is Medisave.

The MOH is studying if it can expand the list of outpatient treatments, medical screenings and vaccinations that are Medisave-deductible, as well as increase the $400 annual cap on the outpatient use of Medisave.

The challenge is to make sure that such changes do not result in the elderly having insufficient Medisave for their needs in the future, warned Mr Gan.

"If we calibrate carefully and put in place some safeguards, I believe we can allow greater flexibility in the use of Medisave to reduce out-of-pocket costs, without jeopardising the future," he said.

A third area for review is MediShield, the national insurance policy designed to help Singaporeans meet large inpatient bills.

The ministry will see if the scheme can be expanded to offset a higher proportion of costs, while keeping premiums affordable.

"We will also have to address Singaporeans' concerns about exceptionally large bills that go beyond the current cap on MediShield claims," he added.

Detailing other measures to help manage health-care costs, Mr Gan said Medifund, which disburses help to the poor, will get an injection of $1 billion, increasing available funds by at least 20 per cent to $120 million a year.

He also drew applause from the House as he removed a $3 fee that is charged each time a patient draws on Medisave to pay for outpatient treatment.

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