NDR 2013: A move toward universal healthcare?
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Written by Ng E-Jay
19 August 2013
This year’s National Day Rally speech was noted for steering clear of politically controversial topics such as immigration, foreign influx, overcrowding, and frequent train breakdowns, and completely ignoring criticisms made by alternative media. This was probably a calculated move to get Singaporeans to focus their attention squarely on new initiatives such as a revamped healthcare system, a revised approach to education and grades, and expanding our aerospace infrastructure.
The new healthcare system is the topic that concerns me most deeply. The key changes include the introduction of a new Medishield Life plan that will cover the person for life. The new plan will be universal, in the sense that it will include everyone without the possibility of opting out. It will also take in people with pre-existing conditions. In exchange for enhanced benefits, insurance premiums will be higher. To keep up with rising medical costs, medisave contribution rates will also be increased.
PM Lee said that because the benefits and coverage are better, MediShield Life premiums will be higher because the scheme “has to break even”. We need to question why the scheme “has to break even”. Why can’t the government fund the scheme partially from our yearly budget surpluses?
As it stands, GIC and Temasek Holdings are raking in big bucks and our foreign reserves are increasing year by year. Government budget surpluses have also been steady. Surely there is scope for the government to fund the scheme at least partially so that insurance premiums can be kept affordable. Surely there is scope for greater healthcare expenditure on the part of the government so that citizens are financially protected from rising medical costs and no one is ever denied treatment because he or she is too poor or too under-insured to afford it.
Our healthcare expenditure is a very low percentage of our government budget compared to other developed nations. PM Lee said that our system is better than those of other developed nations, but that remains, in my opinion, to be seen. Recently there was a report of a person having to wait seven hours for a wound to be treated at the A&E department. Only the rich who can afford private hospitals are spared such long waiting times.
There is scope for the government to spend more on healthcare, but more importantly, to spend that money efficiently and effectively. We are facing a shortage of hospital beds and waiting times have grown inexcusably long. There is an urgent need to address this systemic issue, because some patients have seen their condition worsen as a result of inefficiency. We must urgently deploy resources to combat this situation before it gets out of hand.
Medishield Life covers large hospital bills arising out of catastrophic illness. There is also a need to better protect citizens who have to pay large sums for outpatient treatment for chronic illnesses. PM Lee credited Lam Pin Min for suggesting that medisave should be used for a wider scope of outpatient treatments, and he said he would implement the idea. This is a step in the right direction.