Best healthcare in the world, but at what cost?

Lying in a metal box, sirens blaring, praying this driver doesn’t hit a speed bump, I would have made the most out of my ambulance ride if I had known it would end up costing the same if I had taken a limousine there. The price was high– in the $400 dollar range – after charging for everything from pure oxygen to painkillers. The mini operation that popped my knee back in wasn’t cheap either, but my parents’ bill was the last thing on my mind as the laughing gas took effect and the nurses cracked corny joke after corny joke. But that was three years ago, and now I can actually reflect on the cost of my visit to the hospital.

Singapore has a reputation of being a growing powerhouse in the medical field, and some fly overseas just to ensure the best treatment they can possibly get. Sarah Waterman, an expat teacher living in Vietnam, chose Singapore over Vietnam’s local services. She preferred Singapore’s expertise, but would have gone to Thailand, another medical giant, if her insurance wouldn’t have covered her massive bill. “If I had to pay out of pocket, I would not have been able to afford it, and would have probably chosen Thailand,” Ms. Waterman said.

As an expat myself, I wondered if anybody could feel absolutely safe in Singapore, both physically and financially.

It turns out, Singapore takes its citizen’s wellbeing very seriously. Its stellar healthcare system is ranked seventh in the world by the international medical community and first in most efficient by Bloomberg Business. Known as one of the worldwide hubs to the medical community, Singapore attracts practitioners and graduates from some of the most prestigious schools in the world. These world class services, however, aren’t cheap, and many expat websites warn of the high expenses to expect living in Singapore.

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On Nov. 1, the Singapore Ministry of Health proudly unveiled their new health care program called MediSheild Life, a name so dense with positivity a rainbow shot across my screen when I clicked on their website. Don’t get me wrong, I hold no disdain for a good healthcare program, but it got me thinking about my own coverage as an expat in Singapore. What kind of comparisons can be made from the two situations healthcare-wise?

 

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Fun Fact: MediShield Life does not cover nuclear apocalypses. Ministry of Health

First was the obvious comparison: cost. Who can utilize these medical facilities to their greatest potential? Before slamming numbers together and seeing the difference that comes out, we first have to look at the healthcare used by all Singaporean citizens. Each working citizen must deduct a percentage of their income into a medical savings account boldly named MediSave. Household value is determined by the total household income divided by how many members living under its roof.

Based on your household value, citizens are entitled to certain benefits like the government helping out with payments if your household value is low enough. For large hospital costs that your MediSave account is too small to handle, MediShield Life comes in, providing a cheaper alternative to health insurance for all Singapore’s citizens to cover that extra cost. Because MediShield is government run, its price range varies based on the household value, but sits at an average of $2,400 per person annually, whereas an expat insurance provided by a private company could range its prices from $3,000- $5,000. These expat prices are determined mostly by age, pre-existing conditions, and health risks.

How much would it cost to be hospitalised as a Singaporean citizen or an expat? On Nov. 20, senior Kristina Clark had her tonsils removed at Gleneagles hospital. “I do know that it was extremely expensive, especially for me being an expat, it was around, I wanna say, $8000 dollars.”

Luckily, her dad’s company covered their expenses, but if they hadn’t, the expat insurance available becomes quite tricky to deal with. While the higher end insurance is a straight shot all-around coverage, the more affordable insurance schemes tend to come with a lot of conditions when it comes to surgical removal of anything. Many consider treatments like tonsillectomy to be the result of a pre-existing condition. They may insure you eventually, but a certain amount of time must pass before you can make any sort of surgical claim. One even went so far as to reject surgical claims until half of a year had gone by.

If she was a Singaporean citizen, she would be entitled to a $900 claim based on the class of the procedure (3B apparently), which would drop the price down to $7,100. The price would then ride a rollercoaster of price ranges as co-insurance costs, deductibles and Medisave are factored in, ultimately leading to a reasonable $355 dollars. Not only is this a really good price to get a couple sacks of tissue cut out of your throat, but it’s a straight shot, no-strings attached policy that really puts the patient first.

In conclusion, the unveiling of MediShield Life only further supports Singapore’s top tier ranking on the global charts. Not only does Singapore have a superior healthcare system, it is also a program that has had a long lasting legacy in the country. Earlier in October, the Singapore Ministry of Health celebrated 50 years of healthcare by publishing a book highlighting the successes and struggles of the Singapore healthcare system. Many renowned doctors, the Minister of Health, and even Samuel Lee, Singapore’s first test tube baby, made it out to the book premier.

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As an American expat looking in, the pride was visible as the guests passed around the large books filled with pictures and articles. “I describe Singapore’s healthcare system as the least imperfect in the world,” said Jeremy Lin, head of Oliver Wyman & Co.’s Asia-Pacific health and life sciences practice in an interview with Bloomberg Business. And he’s right. Although it isn’t perfect, Singapore’s healthcare is efficient, effective, and includes all of its citizens under its umbrella of health.

 

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