Thursday, 21 May 2015

[Today] Healthcare should not be left to market forces

I agree with Dr Jeremy Lim that governments should focus on improving healthcare delivery with sufficient facilities at lower cost (“Healthcare on the brink of revolution”; May 13).
A responsible government delivers universal healthcare as one of its basic essential services, such as education, transport, water and electricity. Western countries running into serious financial headwinds struggled to sustain the system because of poor management and administration despite having sufficient doctors and hospital beds. Without political will, this social benefit will always elude the people.
As an essential basic service here, healthcare should be delivered on an equitable basis. Market forces should not distort fair distribution, even in a market economy, to favour the industry. The Government has a duty to regulate the industry’s healthy development and steady progress to ensure services are readily available to citizens at reasonable cost.
Technology will not save healthcare in the absence of realistic curbs on an industry dominated by a couple of listed conglomerates and private specialist clinics charging sky-high prices. As a First World country with an ageing population, Singapore should address the apparent shortage in healthcare services by creating sufficient supply to strive for equilibrium.
The Government needs to adopt a more innovative policy, with incentives to encourage more qualified local and foreign doctors to set up boutique hospitals with enough beds to compete with large conglomerates. This should be done while offering more choices to medical tourists and local patients, to ease the pressure.
To reduce patients’ costs, it should also further liberalise the sale of branded drugs in pharmacies. For example, why do patients need prescriptions to buy regular branded medicines and pay three times more at private clinics?
The key to achieving “access” and “equity” in healthcare begins with pragmatic government regulations that increase the supply of care and at lower cost, such as using generous incentives to improve availability. For instance, specialist clinics and boutique hospitals could be given five-year special concessions in rental, foreign nurse levy and amenity rates at shopping malls or buildings. Property owners can be exempted from property tax for such units.
The profitable healthcare industry should operate like other industries in complying with fair business practices and transparent, competitive pricing. The loss of some revenues to nurture the healthcare industry is worth the benefit to society.