Health Care Shopping Made Easier

From early next year, all hospitals submitting Medisave claims for their patients, are also required to provide data on bill sizes to the Ministry of Health (MOH), in a move to promote more comparison shopping in health care.

Currently, the new requirement is targeting private hospitals that are voluntarily submitting bill statistics, including length of patients' stay.

Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan, in his blog yesterday wrote after seven years of a voluntary approach, the time had come for a stronger nudge.

Public hospitals will not be affected by the requirement, as their average bill sizes for 70 common illnesses like stroke and chest pain are updated monthly on the Ministry's websit

With the exception of Mount Alvernia Hospital, which Khaw lauded as a fine example, data submitted by private hospitals may not be complete, and the new requirement, despite causing inconvenience, will make affected hospitals more competitive.

As Khaw writes, hospitals will want to know why and how a competitor can provide effective care at lower cost, and what has stopped private hospitals from submitting complete statistics like their public counterparts.

Khaw notes there is one difficulty, when the doctors instead of billing their patients through the hospital, bill them directly.

For example, Parkway Holdings responsible for running Gleneagles, Mount Elizabeth and Parkway East hospitals, has over 1,000 accredited medical specialists running their own practices. And in an arrangement patients are comfortable with, patients pay their bills directly to the specialists, according to a Parkway spokesperson.

Nonetheless, the Parkway group said it will work with its specialists to support the Ministry's demand for transparency, saying it currently submits bill size estimates on eight procedures like breast lump removal and cataract surgery to the MOH. Six out of ten of its patients are locals, with the majority using Medisave to pay their bills.

Other private health care players believe the new requirement will have little impact on their billing procedures, as Raffles Hospital already issues a single bill for patients, inclusive of both the doctors' professional and the hospital facility fees.

Doctors with Thomson Medical Centre focusing on women's and children's health care, in nine out of 10 cases bill through the hospital, allowing patients to maximise claims to their Medisave-approved Integrated Shield plans.

And at Mount Alvernia Hospital, doctors mostly inform the hospital of their fees or seek the hospital's help to collect payment.

This latest move of MOH is bound to benefit patients tremendously, according to Mdm Halimah Yacob, former chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Health.