Photo of Gan Kim Yong from The Straits Times

Announcing yet another government-policy inflation yesterday (Mar 7), Health Minister Gan Kim Yong accused Singaporeans for spending too much on “unnecessary treatments” and having a “buffet syndrome”:

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong sang:

“Private insurers offer some policies with zero co-payment coverage. These policies, which are known as full riders, “encourage a buffet syndrome” as patients do not need to pay anything for their treatments. Such riders undermine the co-payment principle and dilute the personal responsibility to choose appropriate and necessary care. This will encourage unnecessary treatment, leading to rising healthcare costs not only for those with such riders, but for all of us.”

Senior Minister of State for Health Chee Hong Tat then quoted two “disgusting” cases of over-consumption to justify the increase:

“Some of the examples of over-consumption and over-servicing, are disturbing. In one case, a full rider policyholder made claims for 12 nose scopes in a year, without clear medical need, and another policyholder who underwent an expensive surgery for a small breast lump removal that cost S$70,000 in doctor fees alone, when there was an equally effective alternative procedure at S$5,000. There have also been patients who were admitted for gastritis or piles, and then referred to many other specialities ranging from dermatology, ophthalmology and ear nose and throat, for additional scans and tests racking up to S$25,000 for a hospital stay in less than 24 hours. It is clear that full riders have a detrimental impact on overall healthcare costs in Singapore. This is a key reason why rider premiums have increased by up to 225 per cent over the past two years… Over-consumption, over-servicing and over-charging of healthcare services will lead to faster and larger increases in overall healthcare expenditure. These increases will ultimately be borne by all Singaporeans through higher medical fees, insurance premiums and taxes, which all of us will have to pay directly or indirectly.”

The PAP Minister announced that Singaporeans must pay an additional 5% co-payment for new Integrated Shield Plan riders:

“Patients must bear a minimum 5 per cent co-payment for new Integrated Shield Plan riders. Policyholders will have a cap on the co-payment amount each year. Most insurers are planning to launch their new riders with an annual cap of S$3,000. This places an upper limit on the risk exposure for policyholders, to protect them against very large bills. The changes in requirements will affect those who will pay for what is known as “full riders”, on top of Integrated Shield Plans. Such riders cover the entire co-payment amount, so the policyholder ends up paying nothing regardless of the bill size. Currently, about 29 per cent of Singapore residents have these full riders.”

It is uncertain that premiums would be lower, but the Minister said he “expects” so:

“We expect the new riders to have lower premiums than full riders, so the switch will result in premium savings for policyholders. If insurers intend to make changes to existing policies, they should consider the interest and well-being of all policyholders, as they seek to keep premiums affordable for everyone in the longer term.”

Minister Chee Hong Tat reminded Singaporeans that Integrated Shield Plan premiums by 80% over two years, and Singaporeans may find the premiums increasingly unaffordable if “this trend continues”.