Phillip Ang: “Public healthcare subsidies are mostly non-existent” in Singapore

On Thursday (11 June), regular blogger, Phillip Ang Keng Hong published an article in his blog where he claimed that there’s no such thing as public healthcare subsidies after he found that the consultation fee at a polyclinic is higher than a private general practitioner (GP).

Mr Ang said that Singaporeans should be aware that “polyclinic patients do not enjoy high subsidies because consultation fees have been inflated to higher than private GP rates”.

He noted that he had first-hand experience regarding this when he recently underwent a minor surgery for a cyst removal.

According to the public healthcare system, Mr Ang said that he was first required to consult a polyclinic GP in order to get a referral letter to see a specialist, and this costs him S$13.

Weeks after that, he explained that as a subsidised patient, he had to pay another S$37 to consult a specialist at a public hospital to schedule an operation. And after the operation was over, he will have to pay an additional S$275, which is only the estimated cost.

Based on these figures, it appears that a subsidised patient will have to pay a total of S$325 for the minor surgery.

Bill to get referral letter to see a specialist
Invoice to consult specialist in order to schedule the surgery at CGH
Estimated surgery cost at CGH

Thankfully, Mr Ang opted to see a private GP, which led to the cancellation of his scheduled appointment at Changi General Hospital (CGH).

At the end of the day, Mr Ang underwent the minor operation at a private clinic and he only paid S$280, significantly lower that what he would have paid at CGH as a subsidised patient.

Invoice at a private clinic

Below is a comparison table that shows how the prices differ between the two healthcare institutes.

“Assuming a 70% ‘subsidy’, total unsubsidised cost for a cyst operation at government hospitals is about $1000. Obvious to even an idiot, government claims of patients enjoying huge subsidies cannot be true,” he wrote.

Based on what he went through, the Singaporean then raised a few questions regarding the healthcare subsidies in the country:

Since patients are not benefiting from government healthcare subsidies, who are the actual beneficiaries?

Is the government allocating tax dollars to public healthcare institutions – as subsidies – to increase their bottom line?

Are senior management executives rewarded accordingly?

Are vendors of public healthcare institutions also beneficiaries of billion$ in subsidies?

In addition to this, TOC recently highlighted another case where the consultation fee at a polyclinic is much higher than in the private sector. Based on the image above, the receipt on the left from a National Healthcare Group Polyclinic shows a final bill of S$13.20 after deducting the government subsidy of S$34.90. That means the total price for a consultation before subsidisation is actually S$48.10.

On the right is the consultation fee incurred when visiting a private clinic with no subsidies – S$29.90. That’s about 38% lower that the full cost of a consultation at a so-called public healthcare facility. While the final total is much lower after the subsidy, the initial fee is much higher at the polyclinic.

However, the Ministry of Health (MOH) has consistently maintained that healthcare is affordable thanks for the 3Ms – MediSave, MediShield and MediFund – which helps keep out-of-pocket medical costs low for individuals.

In fact, MOH has said on their Facebook page that “Singapore has come a long way as we work to build a healthcare system that is accessible, affordable and provides quality of care.” The website notes that the healthcare system in Singapore is designed to ensure that “everyone has access to different levels of healthcare in a timely, cost-effective and seamless manner.”

But, looking at how the costs differ between these two healthcare institutes, it somehow makes us wonder if citizens are really benefiting from these “so-called” subsidies that the Government is offering?