Saturday, October 14, 2017

Public suggestion to the Health & Manpower Ministers: Provide financial options to Singaporeans who can’t pay big bills in private hospitals and review lengthy work hours for senior citizens

Having to pay for huge medical bills in view of rising medical costs has always been a deep concern of all Singaporeans, and it really saddens me to have read of the plight of Mr Thomas Lukose who was saddled with a huge medical bill (Patient could not get place in SGH, hit with $78k bill; Oct 11, 2017, The Straits Times).

But, it was commendable on the part of the operating cardiac surgeon, Dry Sriram Shanker to waive the charges for his services, after which Gleneagles Hospital also waive the medical bill of for Mr Lukose.

If we can build on that compassion and offer some options to Singaporeans who may face a similar situation in future, I am pretty sure the lower income groups will breathe a big sigh of relief.  Moreover, offering options is always useful to have contingency plans in place in anticipation of unexpected situations or developments that may arise from time to time.

Securing a slot in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) is an issue that needs to be tackled quickly given that many Singaporeans are stressed out in having to balance work and family life.  So too securing a bed in a government hospital. Given these challenges, there needs to be some flexibility and options for any Singaporean who have problems paying huge bills due to the unavailability of ICU slots or beds in public hospitals. 

Until such time when the slots in ICU or beds are fully resolved by the Ministry of Health (MOH), there needs to be systems in place for Singaporeans to have peace of mind. 

Offer options

To begin with MOH should collaborate with private hospitals to allow Singaporeans who have life-threatening illnesses and cannot secure a bed in public hospitals to pay their bills at the subsidised rates in the private hospitals – as was rightly suggested my SPH’s Senior Health Correspondent Salma Khalik. 

Then there needs to be some other options open to Singaporeans who are saddled with big bills through no fault of theirs.  For example, patients could be allowed to pay big bills through an instalment plan – interest free as they would need follow-up treatment which includes medication.

Another option is for ComCare to help pay for part of the bill as this government fund was set up primary to help elderly Singaporeans facing financial difficulties. MOH needs to collaborate with MSF on this matter.

Although medifund is given to patients in subsidised wards, some flexibility can be exercised given the circumstances that the patient/s may be caught in – as was the case with Mr Lukose.   Thus, medifund assistance can be yet another option offered to such patients.

Another viable option is for the Tote Board and the President’s Star Charity to allocate some funds for Singaporeans who are in this predicament.

Once approved by MOH, the social workers at the private admitting hospital can then coordinate any of these schemes to make it a smooth sail for the patient/s so that his/her loved ones will have peace of mind. 

While crowdfunding can help to raise some funds, relatives should not be burdened to take this route as it will only add to their stress and anxiety at a time when they will be deeply worried over their gravely ill loved one.   

The recovery from life-threatening illnesses such as heart surgery must not leave the patient and his/her family with anxiety and worry, as it can affect the healing process.

Lengthy work hours will take a toll on the physical and mental health of workers

Separately, the Ministry of Manpower and unions needs to review the long working hours which security guards have to clock in – almost all of our security personnel work on a 12-hour shift on any given day.  Those in the industry could be given the flexibility to opt for shorter working hours (8 hours) or if they are fit to work the 12-hour shift.  With job uncertainty and workers being laid off as companies downsize and restructure, some of our retrenched workers who have bills and mortgages to pay may have to work in the security line or drive cabs as jobs are hard to come by.  

Lengthy works hours – especially for senior citizens can have damaging effects on their physical as well as their mental state.

On 24th August 2015, a study published in the British medical journal – The Lancet had an alarming warning for people who work more than 55 hours a week: They appear to have a 33 percent higher risk of stroke than those toiling a saner 35 to 40 hours each week, and a 13 percent increased risk of coronary heart disease, too.

In addition, a study in 2014 found that working more than 55 hours a week at low-income jobs is associated with a higher risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.  Then it was also found that the odds for developing depression were more than double for those who work very long hours.

Education and medical care are two important areas for the government to invest in. While the government is wise to invest heavily in education as students can be groomed to become tomorrow’s leaders, the policy makers have to also appreciate older Singaporeans – many of whom have done national service to protect our country and who have dedicated their whole lives to our country. 

Submitted for the government’s consideration, please.  
Thank you.



Raymond Anthony Fernando



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