The Health Ministry has received an average of 160 bill-related complaints against private and public healthcare institutions each year in 2015 and 2016 according to Minister of State for Health Lam Pin Min, who added that 23 of the reports related to overcharging received last year, were via e-mails, most of which were against the private healthcare sector.

His statement was in response to a question posed by Member of Parliament Lee Bee Wah, who queried about the number of feedback concerning excessive charging by doctors in private practice received by the Ministry in the past five years.

However, Lam explained that the Ministry of Health (MOH) was unable to accurately compile and compare the number of reports received annually in the past five years, “due to the change in data collection system and the classification of bill-related feedback.”

Reasonable fees are an ethical duty

It is every doctor’s ethical responsibility to impose fair and reasonable fees to their patients, said Lam in his statement.

“The Singapore Medical Council’s (SMC) Ethical Code and Ethical Guidelines requires doctors to charge reasonably and ensure that their fees are transparent and made known to patients in advance,” he said.

“The SMC can take disciplinary action against errant doctors who do not meet these requirements, and has done so before,” he emphasised, adding that the Health Ministry is currently working alongside healthcare providers to improve on fee transparency.

For example, the MOH has already published the “Total Operation Fees” for common surgical procedures as well as the “Total Hospital Bill” data for common conditions for hospitals in both public and private sectors.

Efforts to maintain sustainable costs of healthcare

The Health Ministry has also imposed a requirement for all hospitals to provide financial counselling to patients upon their admission into the health institution.

“In the outpatient setting, MOH requires all GP and dental clinics under the Community Health Assist Scheme (CHAS) scheme to issue itemised bills to CHAS patients, from January this year,” said Lam, who added that the Health Ministry is also “studying the recommendations from the Health Insurance Task Force (HITF) relating to overcharging.”

“Each of us have to play our part to keep our healthcare costs sustainable, while ensuring that patients continue to have access to good quality and appropriate healthcare,” he said. MIMS

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