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SINGAPORE'S healthcare model, which relies on mandatory personal savings, national health insurance and a co-payment component, has helped prevent costs from spiralling out of control, but an ageing population and changing disease patterns have made it harder to do so.
So the government has made four shifts to deal with this, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who was speaking at the ministerial meeting on universal health coverage on Tuesday.
They are: providing more comprehensive support for outpatient treatment; replacing medical insurance scheme MediShield with universal health coverage MediShield Life; right-siting healthcare services so that patients can receive more affordable care in the communities; and encouraging Singaporeans to take better care of their health.
Mr Lee said that MediShield Life will give patients better protection from growing bill sizes. And while insurance premiums will be higher under this more comprehensive scheme, the government is subsidising premiums to keep them affordable, especially for lower- and middle-income groups, he added. There is also a need to make this scheme a compulsory one as higher premiums might drive people to opt out of it.
For the government's healthcare efforts to work, there needs to be a supportive political environment - where Singaporeans are responsible for their own health, providers deliver cost-effective care so that healthcare costs are manageable and the government adopts a people-centred approach that ensures that the low-income have good access, Mr Lee noted.
Also touching on Singapore's move to a universal health coverage scheme was the director-general of the World Health Organisation (WHO), Margaret Chan, who pointed out that such a scheme is "one of the most powerful social equalisers among all policy options".
This is the ultimate expression of fairness, she said. However, it is also crucial to note that universal health coverage is intrinsically country-owned and that it must be home-grown with a country's culture, domestic political institutions, legacy of existing health system and expectations of citizens, for it to work.
Citing Bangladesh as an example, Dr Chan said that barriers including a poor population and frequent natural disasters will not stop any country that really wants to move towards universal health coverage.
Some 300 delegates are attending the two-day event that will cover issues surrounding universal health coverage.