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Healthcare costs increase the most, but MediFund payouts declining?

By Leong Sze Hian

I refer to the article "Nov inflation hits 4.2%, 25-year high" (ST, Dec 25), and the news report "Singapore's Nov consumer prices up 4.2% year-on-year" (CNA, Dec 24).

Healthcare registered the highest increase of 6.2 per cent year-on-year, out of all items of expenditure. Transport and Communication was the second highest at 5.6 per cent, and All Items rose 4.2 per cent.

The consumer price index - a non-core measure of costs for goods and services - rose 4.2 percent from a year earlier after rising 3.6 percent in October.

Since Healthcare inflation has gone up the most, has help for the poor by way of MediFund gone up too?


It is interesting to read what Seah Chiang Nee said in his article "Public cry foul over recent policies - Insight: Down South" (The Star, Malaysian newspaper), Dec 22).

His article said:

"Middle class Singaporeans are giving the government the thumbs down despite Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew’s prediction of a golden era in the coming years.

The current inflation, the worst in 12 years, is partly imported but is blamed on the government because it has been increasing public fees, ranging from healthcare to stamps."

I also refer to the article “Record 301,000 needy patients get help from Medifund” (ST, Dec 4).

The Medifund payout per patient was $ 132 and $ 136, for 2006 and 2005 respectively.

The average payout per patient in 2001 was $ 174.

As medical cost inflation has been one of the highest among all items of household expenditure, why is it that the average payout per patient has declined by 3 per cent from 2005 to 2006, and by 24 per cent from 2001 to 2006 ?

To illustrate the extent of medical cost inflation, average hospital bills went up by 10 to 30 per cent from 2005 to last year, with the highly subsidised Class C wards chalking up the highest percentage increase.

Since the economy has been very good over the last year, and unemployment is at a record low, with record jobs creation, why is it that the number of needy patients who applied for Medifund is at a record high ?

Why has the rejection rate for Medifund applicants increased 30-fold last year to 6,456, compared to only 210 rejections in 2005 ?

Has the criteria for Medifund been revised over the years to account for rising medical costs and inflation ?

In my volunteer work doing financial counseling for needy Singaporeans, whenever I ask a medical social worker what is the criteria to qualify for Medifund, the answer I get is always, “it is confidential”.

I am also unable to find any information on the web sites of any government agency, or voluntary welfare organisation.

Why is the Medifund criteria apparently a secret ?

What are the components that go into the means score used by hospitals in the means testing process for Medifund applications ?

After watching a recent medical charity show on television, which had elderly Singaporeans pleading for donations saying that they have no money for medical
fees and medicine, my friend’s sister, a 50 plus housewife, jumped from the 10th floor of her HDB flat, the following day.

In studies on aging in Singapore, the greatest area of concern expressed by Singaporeans was medical costs.

In another Straits Times article “Hospice pulls out of MediFund : It cites conflicts with its philosophy on needy patients” (ST, Dec 27), it was reported that “it did not want dying patients and their families to be stressed by exhausting their savings, and having to prove it. ‘Some of our patients are so ill, they pass away within a few days of admission, and it is distressing enough for families to deal with this, without the added burden of these investigations’”.

The article also said, “Last year, a record $ 39.6 million from Medifund was given to 20,000 to 30,000 patients who made a record 301,126 successful applications”. I believe this is the first time that the number of MediFund patients has been reported in the media.

I would like to ask what was the number of patients approved and rejected under MediFund for 2001, 2005 and 2006 ?

Is the 6,456 MediFund rejections in 2006 the number of applications rejected, or the number of patients rejected? If it is patients, does it mean that the rejection rate was about 26 per cent (6,456 divided by 25,000 patients)?

In view of all of the above, I would like to suggest that Medifund criteria be made available to the public, so that needy Singaporeans do not become overly worried or depressed about medical costs.

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