Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong (Goh) has taken to social media to praise the high level of medical care available in Singapore.
On his Facebook page, Goh revealed that he underwent a laser procedure to remove a kidney stone at Singapore General Hospital (SGH) saying: “We have a world-class medical service but prevention is always better than cure. To prevent stones from forming, drink plenty of water and watch your diet”.
While there is no doubt that Singapore has an extremely high standard of medical facilities, doctors and care, the issue is whether that high level of care is equally accessible to all Singaporeans. Are most average Singaporeans priced out of medical care when they need it the most?
The Government has long spoken of how affordable the healthcare system in Singapore is. Yet, we are increasingly hearing stories from people who have unfortunately been stricken with serious illnesses completely unable to afford the treatment that they need.
Just last year, there was the case of Sarojini Jayapal who came into financial difficulty after being diagnosed with cancer. Her husband had wanted to withdraw from his CPF ordinary and special accounts to pay for her treatment but had his request denied because he had already withdrawn all of his Medisave monies. In the end, the couple had to resort to borrowing money from moneylenders, family, friends and her husband’s workplace.
What this illustrates is that if hit with a catastrophic illness like cancer, the average person or couple in Singapore will likely not have enough money to see them through the illness under the current system. And if they are lucky to hold on just long enough for treatment to work, they will most definitely end up heavily in debt and would have dried up their entire retirement savings.
So at a time where healthcare is needed is most, it is essentially either unavailable due to costs constraints or available at costs so great that is cripples the entire family’s finances.
So while Goh praises, Singapore’s world-class healthcare, he negates to mention that the world-class services are only for those who can afford the price tag.
Further, ValueChampion has found that Singaporeans pay very high out-of-pocket costs for healthcare even after taking into account every subsidy and insurance coverage available. In fact, out-of-pocket costs make up almost 37% of the total healthcare expenditure in Singapore – that’s almost three times higher than the high income-country average and 1.4 times higher than the East Asia & Pacific average.
In 2017, S$17.26 billion was spent on healthcare services (hospitals, western clinics, non-western clinics and dental and others) by patients seeking medical attention. Under the 3M (MediSave, MediShield (Life) and MediFund) system where billions of taxes, premiums and contributions have been collected by the government, a mere S$1.94 billion was paid out in the same year to relieve the burden of medical bills while at the same time
It does not help when we have the cost of public healthcare being similar or more expensive after subsidises. The most recent example of this was presented by blogger Phillip Ang who found that the consultation fees at a public polyclinic were much higher than that at a private clinic.
So, is Goh completely oblivious or is he missing a sensitivity chip when crowing about the excellent healthcare that he has received?