It has been reported by Straits Times that a security guard, Mr Thomas Lukose, suffered a heart attack at Gleneagles Hospital and he was billed by the hospital for a staggering sum of $78,000. His family now appealing for funds from the public to help to pay off his bill.
According to the Straits Times, the man was on night duty on 12 September as security guard when he collapsed and was taken to the hospital's emergency department immediately.
While his family wanted to transfer him to the National Heart Centre Singapore (NHCS) because his insurance only covers him for subsidised care but there were two things that prevented them from doing so. One, Mr Lukose was in critical condition, therefore, he was put on a ventilator and needed intensive care and two, NHCS had no spare bed in its intensive care unit, so there was no possibility of an immediate transfer.
Chief executive officer of Gleneagles Hospital (GEH), Dr Lee Suen Ming, said, "After the first transfer request was unsuccessful, doctors at GEH proceeded with the patient's treatment plan to ensure the best clinical outcomes possible for the patient."
NHCS spokesman told ST that the transfer could not be effected immediately as there was no available bed in its CCU (coronary care unit) then.
The spokesman then said that the doctors from Gleneagles Hospital and NHCS discussed Mr Lukose's medical condition on 13 September morning and felt that Mr Lukose was too ill to undergo immediate surgery, although this could be considered later.
He said that NHCS then made arrangements to take over his care and a bed was offered to Mr Lukose on 15 September. "We had available surgical slots and would have been able to perform the surgery," he added.
However, Dr Sriram Shankar, the cardiothoracic surgeon who treated Mr Lukose, said that Mr Lukose was critically ill and it would have been risky to transfer", adding that with such condition, treatment needed to be expedited.
Dr Shankar then operated on him at Gleneagles Hospital on 16 September. Mr Lukose had open-heart surgery with three coronary artery bypass grafts. The doctor noted that he made an excellent, uneventful recovery.
Though Dr Shankar did not charge for his services but at the end, Mr Lukose, who is now at home, has been billed for $78,000 by the hospital. His work insurance will cover $13,500, however, the rest has to come from his medical insurance, Medisave or cash.
The appeal on the website wrote, "We have been trying to get him transferred to SGH (Singapore General Hospital) where the cost will be lower, however the efforts have not been successful as there isn't an ICU (intensive care unit) slot available, and it will be risky to keep waiting any longer. Therefore, we have no choice but to go ahead with operation at Gleneagles."
So far, the crowdfunding website shows that over $24,500 has been donated in light of its goal of $40,000. However, Dr Lee said that the hospital is pursuing all avenues to alleviate his financial burden.
A reader of ST, Lau Eric, commented that he experienced the same thing as what Mr Lukose went through. "I know exactly how it is like, as I had similar experience four months ago, though not an immediate life threatening scenario like that of Mr Thomas Lukose," he wrote.
The man stated that sometime in early June, he had an excruciating back pain. "I had already got a referral from the polyclinic to KTPH. But the problem is, the earliest available appointment slot was in August. As I wanted subsidised care, I had intended to bear with the pain & wait," he recalled.
However, he wrote that one week later it got so bad that he could neither sleep nor move without this extreme pain. "With hardly any other options I could think of, I sought to see a private specialist (which luckily under my employment, their are "some low end co-payment coverage")," he wrote.
"Cut short the long story, I ended up with a Mount Elizabeth bill of $34,000! And that's not inclusive of the post hospitalization cost!" he wrote. Mr Lau noted that he has Medisave, Medisave life plus integrated plan and company's insurance plan, and yet he ended up paying around $10,000 in cash plus deduction from his Medisave account. "The sore point of mine is that I had intended to have subsidised care but it wasn't available to me when I need. Something has to be done, not today not tomorrow but yesterday!" he stressed.
Speaking to medical professionals on the issue, they shared that the lack of hospital beds is not a new issue faced by the public hospitals. TOC understands that SGH would likely have a bed open in its ICU out of about six ICU beds but reserved for its own in-house patients. Given that the patient is already in an ICU, SGH would likely not want to take in the patient.
Even in the case that there is no ICU in SGH, if the hospital had called 995 for emergency service, he might be sent to Raffles Hospital where he can enjoy subsidised care and pay rates as in public hospital.
A question raised from this incident is whether the public hospitals have sufficient ICU beds to cope with the demand of the local populace or citizens are just expected to pay huge sums of medical bills, should there be no ICU beds for them in public hospitals.
Update: The family has been informed that the medical bills will be covered by Gleneagles and will not need to raise funds for his medical fees any more. They note that the donations that they have received will be donated to the next person in need and thank all those who have came forward to help.