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Yesterday, I visited a cabbie friend of mine Mark at a public restructured hospital - he suffered a serious heart attack last Sunday. Three of the arteries were blocked with one at 100%.
It was a long while since I last visited a hospital and I was impressed with the modern facilities and pleasing decoration of the public restructured hospital.
One can even mistaken our restructured hospital as a private one as the facilities and professionalism are almost similar.
You even have to register yourself at the counter now before you can visit the patients and there is this high-tech gate which you need to scan in your identity card before you can be admiited into the ward.
Most of the nurses and hospital aides are foreigners but they all look so professional and customer-orientated.
Many Singaporeans must have a few rather unpleasant incidents with our stoic local nurses when they visited their friends or loved ones at our public hospitals.
They are strict and discharged their duties well but often grudgingly and without any courtesy.
Anyway, I was nevertheless glad that my friend was well and resting at a high dependency ward a day after the heart attack with a stent inserted into the blocked artery.
He experienced cold sweat till his shirt was all wet and extreme dizziness – sysmptons of an impending heart attack.
Fortunately, he has the good sense to drive his cab home early in the morning and his wife dictating that something was wrong with him decided to sent him to the A & E.
He has three blocked arteries and required three stents so that his heart could function properly again.
What shocked me was the cost of the stent insertion – each stent costs around $4000 and he could only pay $1000 plus from his medisave savings.
He needs to cough up $12, 000 for the three stents and after minusing the medisave deductible, he needs to pay close to $8000 plus in cash – not a small sum when he could not work for at least a few weeks and has two young teenagers to feed.
The amount was also calculated based on him staying in the lowest C class ward!
Though the admission has assured the family that a social worker can look into their finances after his discharge, one wonders what their criterion will be when the family decides to apply for a waiver of the exhorbitant medical fee.
Will the hospital then decides to do a means testing exercise and asks for all the payslips and tax returns of the siblings and loved ones to look for someone weathier within the family tree to pay up?
Will the hospital also plans out a instalment plan so that the family has to work two jobs to pay up hospital debts or worse force the heart attack patient to over-worry and prematurely return to the workforce further jeopardising his recovery schedule?
Already during the short visit yesterday at my friend’s ward, I could sense the anxiety on the family’s faces as they go over the high medical cost.
Having worked in a voluntary welfare organisation before, I knew that it is very difficult for someone to apply for subsidy for medical services rendered as they will go through your whole family’s finances thoroughly and even look into the kind of home you stay.
Its also a exhaustive exercise which will sap you emotionally dry until you give up applying for the state subsidy and probably forfeit the medical services that your loved ones require.
Proponenets of our modern medical facilities will point out that there is the national medishield insurance scheme which will cover most medical disasters which strike a large majority of our population.
Medishield coverage also has a deductible sum i.e your medical bill must exceeds a certain amount before the insurance scheme kicks in and they only pay a certain percentage of the toal medical cost incurred.
It is all very complicated and many Singaporeans are probably clueless as to how Medishield works.
The weathier Singaporeans will try to cover themselves with private medical insurance such as the dreaded critical illnesses – a premium-based insurance scheme which pays out a large sum when you are hit with one of the 30-plus list of critical illnesses.
However, there will always be this group of Singaporeans who forego paying insurance premiums especially if they have lost their jobs during the 2008/9 downturn.
Personally, I have lapsed all my insurance policies as I could not fork out any cash to pay for the premiums during the long 18-month unemployment period.
How can you pay insurance premiums when you could not even pay your PUB and town council bills?
For most lower middle-income Singaporeans, going to the hospital can be an expensive exercise as they are not too poor to apply for medifund – a medical provision for those who are the very poor here and not too well off to comfortably pay for a 5-figure hospital bill in a C class ward.
I am unsure how the family can cough up the $12, 000 bill but one thing is for sure – Singaporeans who say that they prefer to pass on than visit our public restructured hospital may have some truth there.
Many Singaporeans have confessed that our public medical cost is just too expensive especially for those who are in the lower middle income group – people who generally earn between $2500 – $3500 and probably don’t have much left over for savings.
Moreover, I have heard from a close friend how her dad preferred not to accept medical treatment for cancer and eventually he passed away.
Her dad was uncomfortable of being a financial burden to his family and preferred not to accept medical treatment as someone has to act as a guarantor for him in order for the hospital to proceed further with the treatment plan.
For someone who earns less than $2000 a month, acting as a guarantor for a medical bill of more than $20, 000 in a C class public hospital ward can be a frightening thing – even though the person you are standing for is your father or mother.
I wondered if such incident is a cmmon daily occurrence in the highest GDP country of the world?
Finally, did I also hear that our health minister was only charged $8 for his recent heart-related hospitalisation at our public restructured hospital?
All this mindless propaganda only made my blood boils…
Written by: Gilbert Goh
Editor’s Note: The $12,000 bill does not include the patient’s ward charges and other hospitalisation cost. The bill is inclusive of all other C-class ward subsidy. B-class ward patients pay more than $6000 for one stent. If you suffered from the high cost of staying in our public restructured hospitals before, please email me at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org, we like to hear from you. All correspondences will be treated with the strictest confidence.