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How to spend your final $30,500

Richard Seah

If you are seriously ill and have a limited time to live, and you have $30,500 worth of savings, how would you like best to spend that money? Hands up those who would spend it in a hospital. Anybody?

In the debate about Medisave, some people on this forum have called it a scam. But many people do feel it is both necessary and desirable to set aside money for medical expenses. I remember a few years ago, one newspaper editorial stated that arguing against the merits of Medisave “is a waste of time”. At the risk of wasting both my time and yours, I ask that you reconsider this basic premise.

First, is it necessary? Not if you accept the fact – and this is increasingly confirmed by medical research – that the majority of illnesses can be prevented. If you take good care of your health, your arteries will not get clogged up, your liver, pancreas, kidneys and other organs will not break down and your immune system will conquer most bacteria, viruses and even cancer cells.

What if you don't take care? Well, if you have a heart attack or a stroke, there is a good chance that you will die suddenly. So there is again no need for medical expenses.

If you develop diabetes, your Medisave fund won't cover your daily jabs of insulin. The money will come in handy if you need to amputate your leg, but again, not after that when you need to engage a maid to help you move around.

Of course, there will be some people who might find their Medisave money useful, such as those who require heart bypass, stent insertion and similar surgery. But hey! The same procedures can be done in Malaysia or Thailand for a fraction of the cost, even after factoring in travel expenses.

Using Medisave to have them done in Singapore then becomes like buying expensive items from a department store when those same items are on sale cheaply everywhere else. You do it only because you have a gift voucher that cannot be redeemed elsewhere. But Medisave is not a “gift”. It's your savings!

It was only recently that this “voucher” can be redeemed – and only partially in any case – at some Malaysian branches of the same medical "department store". If you prefer (or happen to be in) Thailand, Philippines or some other country, sorry, you pay cash… while your Medisave idles away back home, waiting to follow you to your grave.

About the only significant group of people who might find Medisave “necessary” are those who spend the final months in and out of hospitals, fighting one medical battle after another. If you belong to this group, you would do well to ask yourself – and your children and siblings, who might be using their Medisave money plus lots more cash since Medisave won't be enough: Is this desirable?

One person who found a more desirable way to use his money was the American journalist Norman Cousins, who was diagnosed with a so-called “incurable” illness. Instead of feeling miserable in a hospital, he decided to check into a hotel. After all, it cost less money. He felt better right away. The service and the food were far superior and there were no nurses to wake him up in the middle of the night to ask him to take his medicines.

(As an aside, I still remember when I was in hospital some 35 years ago. I was woken up one night by a nurse asking me to take my sleeping pills! Yes, they do stupid things like this. “It's the policy,” the nurse had explained to me.)

To entertain himself, Cousins rented funny movies. This was in the 1960s, before video, VCD and DVD, when movies came as film and projector. Cousins spent his days watching Groucho Marx movies and literally laughed himself to recovery – and became famous for writing about his experiences in Anatomy of an Illness,

Hugh Faulkner, author of Physician Heal Thyself, was a British medical doctor who was diagnosed with advanced pancreatic cancer when he was in his mid-70s. Despite being a medical doctor, he sought alternative treatment through a macrobiotic diet.

Faulkner wrote in his book that just before the Christmas after his diagnosis, he drew up a list of “presents” that he had always wanted - either to have or to do. It was a long list. Among other things, he bought a computer and learned to play a musical instrument. These contributed as much to his recovery as his change of diet. He led an active, healthy and fulfilling life for about another seven years, even though the original prognosis was just six to nine months. I had the privilege of meeting this brave man – it takes courage for a medical doctor to seek alternative medical treatment – when I attended the Macrobiotic Summer Camp back in 1993.

Recovery is never guaranteed, of course. What is guaranteed is that you will feel much happier spending your final $30,500 on the things that you've always wanted, than on drugs and chemotherapy that cause you to lose your appetite, your hair… and your will to live!

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*The views expressed in this article are the writer’s and do not represent that of The Online Citizen.