~By: Kumaran Pillai~
Dr. James Gomez, head of the policy unit of the Singapore Democratic Party introduced the panel of doctors at the Launch of the SDP National Health Care Plan. It was a culmination of efforts and an enhancement of what the SDP team had put together in their shadow healthcare plan during the General Elections in 2011. With more inputs from a panel of 9 physicians, and from party cadres, members and volunteers, the SDP confidently proposed landmark changes to our healthcare system.
A check on the World Health Organisation Rankings showed that Singapore was ranked 6th globally [here]. Based on the same report, it seems like we are leading by miles compared to the healthcare systems provided by our neighbouring countries. Yet, listening to the presentation of A/Prof Paul Tambyah, it was apparent that, what we need now are not just tweaks to the current system, but a total overhaul. It was disheartening to hear that under the current administration, a good portion of those who needed primary healthcare in Singapore were falling through the cracks.
While Minister Khaw has access to an $8.00 heart surgery [here], the medical costs for any heart ailment, according to SDP’s panel of doctors, can run into thousands for the man on the street. The crux of SDP’s healthcare plan tackles the issue of affordability and drives home the fundamental point that patients are irrational consumers and therefore a vulnerable group that needs State protection.
Under their plan, there are ‘no-compromises’ on either quality or speed of service. All patients, rich or poor will be treated equally – all patients will be in 2-beded wards. Hence, they plan to eliminate the current class structures with a single stroke.
“Healthcare is a need and not a commodity,” said Dr. Gomez, to drive home the point that for-profit healthcare systems have failed to support citizens in the fringes of our society.
Currently, our hospitals are overcrowded and patients are waitlisted for their turns. It was also revealed in the recent budget debate that some patients who fall behind in their medical bills are harassed by debt collectors who were engaged by the hospitals [here].
In a recent article published by Asiaone [here], there was one Madam Tan Miu Muay that has not been receiving proper medical care for the last 10 years because she could not afford it. These were the kind of cases that SDP cited in their presentation.
There was also a call to increase the healthcare budget of what is currently proposed. Singapore’s current healthcare subsidies are far lower than what is provided for in other mature economies in Asia. (See SDP healthcare plan)
The main feature of SDP’s proposal is the single payer system, where the government underwrites 90% of the healthcare costs through a risk-sharing, state-funded insurance scheme. Under this scheme, each adult citizen needs to only contribute a sum of S$600 per annum through their CPF. For those who can’t afford that amount, the government underwrites the premium.
It is noteworthy to mention what Dr. Chee Soon Juan said in his opening remarks, that some Singaporeans have told him, “it is better to die than to fall sick in Singapore.” He has taken heed and it seems like he has gone all out to ensure that no sick man goes untreated, no family needs to be financially burdened when their loved ones fall sick and most importantly, everyone in Singapore has access to basic healthcare.
“The family and loved ones are already under stress and anguish when someone dear falls ill, we certainly don’t need them to go through the indignity of having debt collectors chasing them for monies accumulated through medical bills,” Dr. Chee said.
SDP’s healthcare plan is a total affront to the current practise of commercialization of healthcare in Singapore. With no representation in parliament, it makes one wonder why they are putting so much effort – it can’t be, as they put it, for PAP to plagiarize their plans. Or perhaps, it could be an indication of their larger plans, both for Singapore and SDP in 2016.