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Rethinking increasing coveage for MediShield: Healthcare or High Stakes?

Foong Swee Fong questions the wisdom of expanding MediShield Life to cover expensive, cutting-edge treatments, arguing for a focus on affordability and essential healthcare, rather than subsidizing high-cost drugs.



by Foong Swee Fong

I refer to the recent announcement by Health Minister Ong Ye Kung in Parliament on 6 March, stating that premiums for MediShield Life are set to increase to provide more assurance against large medical bills and to cover new groundbreaking treatments.

In his speech, he disclosed that an 11-member expert panel, the MediShield Life Council, is reviewing the scheme and is expected to finalize its recommendations by the second half of 2024.

One of the aspects being examined is the expansion of MediShield Life coverage to include cell, tissue, and gene therapy products, also known as CTGTPs.

While these treatments show promise, many are still in early development stages and are very expensive, with costs ranging from a few hundred thousand dollars to a few million dollars per treatment. Mr Ong previously mentioned that insurance coverage would be extended to treatments that are clinically effective and cost-effective.

Why is Minister Ong becoming the chief salesman for pharmaceutical companies? Without his intervention, the latest cancer drugs, which cost hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars per treatment due to copyrights, would probably never see the light of day, as most customers would be deterred by the cost.

However, pharmaceutical companies now just have to persuade Mr Ong, and if he agrees, for whatever agenda, be it to encourage their investment here or because Temasek has invested in them, etc., the drug is rolled out to the entire country, thanks to compulsory MediShield.

MediShield is important to spread the high cost of medical care; however, it should not be used to roll out cutting-edge drugs that cost an arm and a leg.

Instead, it should source generic drugs to keep premiums affordable. Let private insurance cover cutting-edge drugs, if it makes financial sense for them. It is precisely it doesn’t that MediShield is used since it has the volume, and people cannot opt-out.

The government should stick to its core functions: protect the people from external threats; maintain internal law and order; provide infrastructure such as roads, rails, ports, public housing, schools, etc., i.e., undertakings where the expense will naturally never repay the profit but will frequently benefit society as a whole.

They should stop indulging in or interfering with business since its interest is necessarily contrary to that of running a country. The former is based on squeezing the customer and worker to maximize profits now, and the latter is long-term and based on providing an environment as conducive as possible so that people can realize their full potential.

Besides, when they run a business, the money is not theirs and is seemingly endless, thus naturally encouraging them to be reckless and profligate, thereby ruining the country.

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My view is that the G can go beyond its core function so long as it benefits the population. In this regard, I am not against expabding the scope of Medishield Life. What I am against is the blatant profiteering from the compulsory insurance premiums payment. As I highlighted earlier in the now defunct Eldershield, premiums collected amounted to $3.3 bil while claims payout totalled only $130 mil. There are obviously 2 courses of action to consider: 1) increase or expand the claims payout or; 2) lower the insurance premiums Increasing the coverage of Medishield should not be an excuse… Read more »

Aren’t the Pharmaceuticals opening factories here because our govt. gave them huge carrots? Now making sure they will profit from us. The PAP are confused about their roles.

Agree 100%.

Medical scam to include products that are not necessary….