Despite 160 complaints of overcharging every year, MOH has no guideline for medical fees

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picture credit: Wellness TV

An average of 160 overcharging complaints were made against private and public healthcare institutions in 2015 and 2016, Minister of State for the Ministry of Health (MOH) Dr Lam Pin Min said in Parliament today (28 Feb).

Dr Lam was responding to MP Lee Bee Wah’s question as to how many reports of excessive charging by doctors in private practice have been received by the Ministry in the past five years; whether there is a trend of doctors abusing their patients’ medical insurance coverage by overcharging them; and what measures can be taken to regulate such a practice.

Dr Lam said that doctors are ethically responsible for charging fair and reasonable fees to their patients. The Singapore Medical Council (SMC) Ethical Code and Ethical Guidelines (ECEG) requires doctors to charge reasonably and ensure that their fees are transparent and made known to patients in advance. The SMC can take disciplinary action against errant doctors who do not meet these requirements, and has done so before.

There is however no guideline for medical fees. Hence both doctors and patients may be clueless about what is overcharging and who is overcharging.

Dr Lam added that MOH is working with healthcare providers on ways to improve fee transparency.

“MOH has published ‘Total Hospital Bill” data for common conditions and “Total Operation Fees” for common surgical procedures for both public and private hospitals. MOH also requires all hospitals to provide patients with financial counselling upon admission. 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. These measures ensure more fee transparency and enable patients to make more informed decisions.
MOH is also studying the recommendations from the Health Insurance Task Force (HITF) relating to over-charging.”

He reiterated that “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.”