SINGAPORE: From July next year, doctors will be barred from paying third-party agents fees that are calculated as a percentage of the fees collected from patients, the Singapore Medical Council (SMC) said.
Third-party administrators typically help process medical claims on behalf of doctors or healthcare providers. Paying them percentage fees may be construed as a form of fee-splitting between doctors and such agents, SMC president Tan Ser Kiat said in an advisory issued to doctors on Tuesday (Dec 13).
Prof Tan pointed out that the work done by third parties in handling claims does not vary depending on the fees doctors charge patients. As such, fees paid to such agents must likewise reflect the "fair work done" in processing the claims.
The payment of percentage fees would be an infringement of the SMC's new ethical code when it takes effect on Jan 1, 2017.
However, the SMC said on Tuesday that it would give doctors six months more to ensure that their contracts with third-party agents meet the new guidelines. The new provision will now come into force on Jul 1, 2017.
KEEPING HEALTHCARE COSTS DOWN
Prof Tan warned doctors against using such third-party fees as an incentive to charge patients high fees, or over-servicing patients and enabling third parties to profit at the expense of patients. "Such fees would also lead to an escalation in healthcare costs," he said.
Prof Tan also cautioned doctors that whatever fees doctors pay third-party agents must not ultimately compromise the care of their patients. "Where the fees charged by doctors are diluted by the fees exacted by third parties, doctors must ensure that the portion of fees for their own services is not so low as to either render them unable to provide patients the standard of care required or require over-servicing in order to make it financially viable."
The Singapore Medical Association (SMA) welcomed the SMC's move, saying it would allow greater transparency. "It's important to realise that with this advisory, the patients' share of the healthcare dollar will go up," said Dr Chong Yeh Woei, a council member of the SMA. "He will get more value for his money, so to speak."
"I think this is a good thing because we are essentially asking the TPAs to cut down their fees, to provide these services to the doctors," added Dr Chong, who is also a former president of the SMA.