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Govt's duty to ensure health-care affordability

The Straits Times | Monday, Sep 29, 2014

Dr Carol Tan made an excellent suggestion of having the Government buy drugs on behalf of all patients and set recommended prices within a range ("Reducing the pain of health-care costs"; Tuesday).

This creates greater economy of scale and is a good way to combat overcharging in the private health-care sector, thus reducing costs.

Mr Francis Cheng, however, missed the point when he asserted that it is not government policy to dictate how the private sector does business ("Bulk buying of drugs not feasible"; Wednesday).

For essential services like health care, the Government has a duty to ensure affordability for all citizens. At the very least, it has to ensure they do not get overcharged.

While private hospitals are for-profit entities and are entitled to make reasonable profits, they should not be allowed to impose charges without any constraints, particularly when prices are not made known or agreed upon with the patient in advance.

High mark-ups and, consequently, high hospitalisation bills will lead to higher health insurance premiums that will be borne by everyone.

Yes, there is nothing to stop those who can afford private health care from seeking treatment in public hospitals, but everyone would be worse off if they do so.

We do not need to worry too much about private doctors charging more for consultation and other procedures to cover lower earnings from drug sales, as the overcharging usually comes from private hospitals.

While hospitals may increase their room charges and daily treatment fees, at least the patient is aware of and agreed to such charges on admission, unlike charges for medication and supplies, which are known only when the bill is presented on discharge.

As for the Government not knowing what to buy in bulk, the agency handling the purchasing can easily take orders from all health-care providers. In this regard, we can draw on Australia's experience.

Dr Tan's suggestion is worth pursuing if we want greater transparency in hospital charges.

Charis Mun (Mrs)


This article was first published on Sept 27, 2014.
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