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According to the Bloomberg Health-Efficiency Index 2020, Singapore is the top-ranked country when it comes to achieving efficient healthcare outcomes. Life expectancy in Singapore is also ranked among the highest in the world, at 83.6 years as of 2019.
For those of us living in Singapore, this should not be surprising. There is a strong commitment by our government to ensure that healthcare treatment remains accessible for everyone including the lower-income group. These include government subsidies for hospital bills and basic healthcare insurance protection via MediShield Life for all Singapore Citizens and Permanent Residents.
Public & Private Hospitals: Working Alongside Each Other
Singapore’s healthcare system utilises both public and private hospitals to achieve high-quality healthcare outcomes. Today, we have a total of 10 acute public hospitals and 9 acute private hospitals in Singapore.
Public hospitals are operated by government units such as SingHealth or the National Healthcare Group. For public hospitals, the cost of hospitalisation and treatment are typically cheaper compared to private hospitals. Patients can also choose from different class wards – Class A, B1, B2 or C, with lower-class wards being less expensive.
Currently, Singapore Citizens and Permanent Residents who are admitted to Class B2 or C wards receive subsidies of between 50% to 80%, depending on their ward choice and income. This helps to reduce hospitalisation cost. Furthermore, MediShield Life provides coverage against large bills incurred in public hospitals though this coverage is sized for treatment at the subsidised wards.
At the same time, it’s worth noting that public hospitals healthcare resources are finite and there may be limitations to what they can offer.
For example, with public hospitals, subsidised patients will be assigned the doctor or specialist, instead of choosing who they prefer. Also, due to the sheer number of people who are seeking similar subsidised treatment, waiting time can be quite long – unless your condition is life-threatening.
Depending on your ward choice, public hospital wards can range from between 8-10 patients per room (Class C ward) to 1 patient per room (Class A ward). Thus, it’s not always the most comfortable unless you choose a single-bed ward, which would cost you more.
Private Hospitals Let You Choose your Doctor and Offer Comfort & Short Waiting Period
Besides seeking treatments at public hospitals, private hospitals are a suitable alternative for us even when they cost more.
With private hospitals, you get to choose the doctor or specialist that you want. Many doctors and specialists in a private hospital are usually senior doctors who have 10 or more years of experience in public hospital and are now owners of their own private practice. Private hospitals provide senior doctors and specialists with important ancillary services, such as wards, operating rooms, medical equipment and technology, senior nurses, administrative support, and a network of fellow doctors for multi-disciplinary, integrated care.
If hospitalisation is needed, you can expect a high level of service, privacy and comfort, with most private hospital wards in Singapore being 1-bedded, 2-bedded or 4-bedded wards.
The waiting period for private hospitals are usually short. Typically, a patient can get an appointment with a specialist within the next day and schedule for a surgery, if needed, within 48 hours. A short waiting time for diagnosis and early intervention could reduce the chances that a condition may worsen, which in turn, minimises the need for more invasive or complicated procedures in the future.
Here’s a personal experience.
A couple of years ago, my then 1-year old daughter failed her hearing test during a routine check-up. This led to a referral from the Polyclinic to an Ear, Nose, Throat (ENT) specialist at a public hospital. However, the earliest appointment that could be made was a couple of weeks away.
Being the anxious parents we were, my wife and I immediately went to find a private specialist and was referred to one by our paediatrician. On the same day, we brought our daughter for a detailed ear check-up and within 30 minutes, we learn that her hearing is completely fine (thankfully!). She was still recovering from a flu that was causing her some ear pressure problems.
She was prescribed medication and the problem was quickly resolved. We also went for her public referral appointment a few weeks later and everything was found to be okay.
In our case, going for an early check-up gave us peace of mind. While it turned out that medical treatment wasn’t needed, my point is that when required, private specialists and doctors can provide us with the option for an earlier diagnosis, and if needed, early intervention and treatment.
Private Integrated Shield Plans Can Cover Us For Treatment In Private Hospitals
Similar to how public and private hospitals work alongside each other to achieve high-quality healthcare outcomes, our private integrated shield plans also work hand-in-hand with MediShield Life to ensure that we can receive the healthcare coverage that we need, in both public or private hospitals.
While MediShield Life coverage is pegged to the expected treatment cost in subsidised wards in public hospitals, Singapore Citizens and Permanent Residents (PRs) can also enjoy coverage at higher-class wards at public hospitals or seek treatment at private hospitals by upgrading their existing MediShield Life to a private integrated shield plan. By having a private integrated shield plan, a sizeable portion of our hospitalisation bill at private hospital will be covered by our insurer. According to government data, about 2.75 million people in Singapore have a private integrated shield plan.
If we buy private integrated shield plan with a co-pay rider, we will pay 5% of the bill, up to maximum co-pay cap amount of $3,000 a year. This is the minimum co-payment requirement stipulated by the Ministry of Health (MOH) for all new plans and riders bought after 8 March 2018.
Estimating Private Hospital Bills
Over the years, MOH has been working with private hospitals to improve transparency for medical costs so we don’t need to worry about hospital bill shock upon discharge.
Within the IHH SG group of hospitals in Singapore (Gleneagles, Mount Elizabeth, Mount Elizabeth Novena & Parkway East), you can get a hospital bill estimator so that you 1) have a gauge of what the estimated hospital bill will be and 2) know how much you should expect to pay after taking into consideration your insurance coverage.
Choose the procedure that you will be having.
Choose the private integrated shield plan coverage that you have (if applicable). Then select the rider that you have (if applicable).
After this, you will see the estimated total bill and the estimated out-of-pocket expense that you are likely to pay. For our example, the estimated bill size is $24,546 with the out-of-pocket expense is estimated to be about $1,227.30 after insurance coverage.
Depending on your private integrated shield plan and the rider you have, your estimated out-of-pocket costs may vary. Do note as well that the out-of-pocket expense you have to pay can be covered by MediSave or any corporate insurance plans that you may have. So it’s not necessarily cash outlay that you have to fork out.
Nevertheless, rather than worry about how much your hospital bill may be, what’s more important is knowing how much you are likely to pay based on the insurance coverage that you have.
Both Private Integrated Shield Plans & Private Hospitals Give Us An Additional Option
Private hospitals address the limitations that we may face at a public hospitals such as longer waiting period and the inability to choose the doctors or specialists we want. Of course, the trade-off is that hospitalisation and treatment are usually more expensive.
This is where a private integrated shield plan that provides us with coverage at private hospitals would support us. While we pay a higher premium for our hospitalisation plan each year compared to just having MediShield Life, it also provides us with the additional option of being able to access private hospitals, without having to worry about large hospital bills.
Whether it’s our health or our health insurance coverage, these are both areas that we should not be neglecting. By understanding the level of coverage that we currently have through our private integrated shield plan, we can rest assured knowing that we covered for any unexpected medical conditions. At the same time, it’s important we don’t neglect making any important healthcare decisions simply because we are worried about cost. So take the step today to find out our coverage from our insurance agent or company.