SINGAPORE (Jan 14): Seow Ban Yam, an 82-year-old suffering from cataracts, made headlines last month when the public health insurance scheme MediShield Life paid only $4.50 of his subsidised bill of $4,477, because of claim limits set for his eye operations. The surgical procedures took place at the Singapore National Eye Centre last year. Seow’s case created a furore and, not long after, SNEC said it would review its charges from March 1.

Still, the whole saga raises questions about the affordability of healthcare in Singapore, especially as medical expenditures are already projected to increase amid rising cases of chronic illnesses and an ageing population. Would healthcare costs rise uncontrollably? Can government subsidies and insurance keep up? Or, why is healthcare becoming so much more expensive in the first place, and how can it be brought down?

Healthcare bills, especially in the private sector, have been going up sharply. Between 2007 and 2017, average inpatient bills in the private sector rose 9% a year. In public restructured hospitals, where healthcare costs are regulated, bills at an “A” Class ward, which is comparable to a ward in a private hospital, went up 4.9% annually over the same period. Overall, healthcare inflation and hospitalisation inflation rose 2.6% and 3.8% respectively, higher than the broader inflation rate of 2.3%, during the period.

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