SINGAPORE: The Ministry of Health (MOH) on Thursday (Oct 13) welcomed a "timely and commendable" report by an industry-led taskforce on managing the cost of health insurance in Singapore, amid escalating claim costs for Integrated Shield Plans.
In the report released on Thursday, the Health Insurance Task Force (HITF) said collaboration among industry stakeholders was "critical in addressing the escalation of healthcare costs and insurance claims".
The taskforce recommended a number of "targeted measures" with the aim of steering stakeholders towards "more efficient outcomes specifically to keep claims escalation in check and Integrated Shield Plan (IP) premium levels affordable".
HITF made six recommendations to achieve this:
- Introducing medical fee benchmarks or guidelines on a range of professional fees: This would provide stakeholders access to information on appropriate charges and mitigate inflated charges by providers, the HITF said.
- Clarifying the process to raise cases of inappropriate medical treatment: The HITF said that this would discourage medical professionals from providing medically unnecessary treatments and help insurers better manage policyholders' claims.
- Having a panel of preferred healthcare providers: A list of preferred healthcare providers with fee agreements with insurers could help manage medical costs, the HITF said. The taskforce recommended that insurers clarify that consumers have the option of choosing non-panel practitioners, although these may affect the insurance coverage.
- Encourage insurers to include co-payment features: This is to ensure customers have an interest in managing their own healthcare costs and avoid incurring unnecessary costs, the HITF said.
- Pre-approval of medical treatments for medical coverage: Providing certainty to patients on which treatments can be claimed under their policies would also give insurers greater control over the cost of medical bills and reduce disputes between healthcare providers and insurers or patients over medical treatments and bills, according to the HITF.
- Educating consumers on healthcare options: The HITF proposed ensuring readily accessible information on medical charges as well as the options of patients, such as the types of hospitals and wards, so that consumers can make informed choices.
HEALTH MINISTRY TO "CAREFULLY STUDY" RECOMMENDATIONS
In a press release on Thursday, MOH said the the Government had taken "significant steps" to improve healthcare affordability and health insurance coverage for Singaporeans through measures such as the Pioneer Generation Package, subsidy enhancements and MediShield Life.
However, it said it recognised that other stakeholders such as insurers, healthcare service providers, policyholders and patients also had an important role to play to ensure the longer-term sustainability of Singapore’s healthcare system.
"We will engage the insurers, healthcare providers, policyholders and patients in further discussions to carefully study the recommendations. MOH will also work with our partners to reach out to Singaporeans and help them better understand IPs and the HITF’s recommendations," it said in the statement.
Responding to some of the HITF's recommendations, the Health Ministry said that there was value in improving the transparency of medical fees as it enabled both patients and healthcare providers to make more informed decisions.
While pointing out that it already publishes data on hospital bills and operation fees for common conditions and procedures relating to both public and private hospitals, the ministry said it would continue to work with healthcare providers and IP insurers on ways to further improve fee transparency.
It also expressed support for the HITF's recommendation of co-payment not just for Government subsidised healthcare coverage, but also for private insurance.
Currently, some private insurance products provide policyholders with full coverage. "The absence of any co-payment may encourage over-consumption by some patients and over-servicing or over-charging by some healthcare providers which will eventually increase healthcare costs and insurance premiums for all Singaporeans," it said.
"The HITF’s recommendation is timely and MOH will work with the Life Insurance Association (LIA) and industry players to address these issues."
Regarding the HITF's proposals to help IP insurers better manage escalating claims costs, such as the use of a panel of preferred healthcare providers and pre-approval of claims, MOH noted that such practices are common among health insurers internationally and are already practiced by some insurers locally, particularly those providing group insurance and employer medical benefit plans.
"LIA and IP insurers should further study these practices, taking into account patient and policyholders’ interests. Insurers should also ensure that their policyholders are properly informed of any changes to their policy terms and that policyholders understand the implications before switching to any new product," said the Health Ministry in the statement.