Rising medical costs in Singapore: Making informed choices

Last year, patients and healthcare professionals alike expressed their concerns over the growing disparity in medical costs, which made it difficult for patients to estimate their bills.

Dr Tang Kok Foo had written in to The Straits Times noting a sharp rise in private healthcare costs over the past five years.

It sparked an active discussion where many doctors cited reasons for rising healthcare costs.

They ranged from the workings of free market forces, rising operating costs, advances in medical technology, as well as unethical doctors prescribing unnecessary medications and treatments.

Meanwhile, others urged the regulation of healthcare costs and suggested the reintroduction of fee guidelines in Singapore's private medical sector, which was withdrawn in 2007 for contravening the Competition Act.

Since 2004, the Ministry of Health (MOH) has published a listing of hospital bill sizes to show the range of costs across public hospitals and several private hospitals for common surgical procedures in Singapore in a bid to promote competition and transparency.

The list, updated annually, consists of the regular and upper range of hospital charges for 80 common medical conditions.

In August last year, MOH introduced a new "Total operation fees" section on its website for the public's reference.

It lists the lower and upper ranges of hospital bill sizes for 65 common surgical procedures at public hospitals.

MOH said: "This will provide more information to empower patients to make informed decisions, and allow market forces to work more efficiently."

With Singapore's ageing population and a marked increase in healthcare consumption, patients are also becoming more prudent when considering treatment options and costs.

Last year, Mr Leslie Fong, senior executive vice-president of SPH's Marketing and Digital divisions, also suggested a website where the public could upload their hospital bills for comparsion as well as to "maintain vigilance against unreasonable hikes in (medical) cost".

At the opening of the Health & You Exhibition 2014, he said: "Instead of just griping in private about being overcharged for this or that, why not put up the medical bill in contention... so it can be subjected to public - hopefully informed - scrutiny?"

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