Mailbox: Ministry should do more to regulate drug prices

PHOTO: Mailbox: Ministry should do more to regulate drug prices

The Ministry of Health's reply ("Private hospital charges not under MOH's purview"; below) seemed to miss the points raised in my letter ("Rein in medicine charges at private hospitals"), which highlighted the extremely high cost of medication at a private hospital.

In my case, the price was about three times that charged by other pharmacies.

As a result, medication made up about 41 per cent of my total hospital bill, excluding doctors' fees and goods and services tax.

Hence, I asked why private hospitals are allowed to levy high medication charges, and what measures are in place to monitor such prices.

Another letter ("Huge mark-ups for basic medication and supplies" by Mrs Charis Mun) also raised concerns about the high mark-up for basic medication.

In Mrs Mun's case, the hospital charges amounted to almost 80 per cent of the total bill.

Over the past two weeks, there have been several letters raising concern over high charges by doctors and hospitals.

If medication charges at private hospitals are not under the MOH's purview, then it is time for the ministry to be more pro-active to ensure that basic medication and supplies are not priced excessively.

Otherwise, health-care costs will continue to rise, which in turn affects health insurance premiums.

Ultimately, consumers will have to bear the additional costs.

Letter from Tan Jiak Hong

Private hospital charges not under MOH's purview

Mr Tan Jiak Hong ("Rein in medicine charges at private hospitals") quoted staff at a private hospital as saying that the charges at the private hospital "had been reviewed by the hospital's management committee and were supported by the Ministry of Health".

Private hospital charges do not fall under the Ministry of Health's (MOH) purview; private hospitals set their fees independently.

According to the Singapore Medical Council's Ethical Code and Ethical Guidelines, a doctor cannot abuse the doctor-patient relationship for personal gain. This means a doctor shall not let financial considerations imposed by his own practice, investments or financial arrangements influence the objectivity of his clinical judgment in the treatment of his patients.

A doctor shall refrain from improperly obtaining fees from patients, improperly prescribing drugs or appliances in which he has a financial interest, and fee-sharing or obtaining commissions from referral of patients.

To increase transparency and enable patients to make more informed choices, the total hospital bill sizes of 80 procedures in public and private hospitals are published on MOH's website. This will help Singaporeans make more informed choices.

From next month, MOH will also publish the "total operation fees", which is a component of the total hospital bill comprising the "surgeon fee", "anaesthetist fee" and "facility fee" in our public hospitals.

Publishing such data for both unsubsidised and subsidised patients in our public hospitals will serve as a useful point of reference on procedure-related professional fees, which are applicable to both public and private sector health-care providers.

MOH will continue to work to extend transparency of health-care charges to facilitate informed decision-making by patients.

Lim Bee Khim (Ms)
Director, Corporate Communications
Ministry of Health

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