How prepared is Singapore to tackle its aging population?

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By: Kheng-Liang Tan

A newly released Asia-focused study entitled “Advancing into the Golden Years” by professional services firm Marsh & McLenan has shed some light on the aging population in the region.

The study – which covers 14 countries – estimates that the number of adults over the age of 65 will rise by 71% within the next 15 years while the annual expenditure spent on healthcare will hit US$2.5 trillion per annum, or five times the current level.

The Singaporean context?
Compared to other countries in its peer grouping, Singapore has the lowest ratio of doctors and hospital beds per 1,000 population.

Statistics Hospital

However, it was noted that Singapore’s healthcare system is still ranked highly by the World Health Organisation and this “may indicate higher healthcare efficiency and productivity of healthcare resources”.

To supplement this point, Singapore was praised for the use of innovative technology such as the Smart Elderly Monitoring and Alert System to sense anomalies in the movements of elderly and BreathOptics to detect the breathing patterns of the Elderly during sleep.

The question is: Moving forward, how well will Singapore cope in terms of an increasingly aging population?

Singapore’s aging population and the lack of social support?
On a statistical front, Singapore’s elderly as a percentage of the population is expected to rise from the current 11% to 20% by 2030 while the average spent on healthcare per person is expected to rise by more than 460% from the current US$8,200 per person to US$37,400.

Healthcare Expenditure

The same study showed that Singapore’s government expenditure on healthcare ranks among the lowest of all countries studied while the out of pocket expenses are among the highest.

Healthcare Spending

Limited claims from MediShield and government schemes?
In an earlier blog post, Roy Ngerng dug out that over 2,400 MediShield policyholders made a co-payment of more than $10,000 each in 2012 for healthcare costs while there are limits on how much claims can be made out of MediShield.

During the 2016 National Day Rally, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that the Elderlshield insurance scheme benefited ‘only’ 7,000 people over the past 14 years and was looking at ways to improve on it given that it only last six years which may be insufficient.

Currently, the scheme offers a mere $300 to $400 for the “severely disabled” to defray their costs of out-of-pocket expenses.

For those unable to pay, there is the MediFund scheme. However, financial commentator Leong Sze Hian has commented that MediFund has a “secret” criteria to determine its eligibility while more than 900,000 patients received assistance in FY2014.

Given the inherent criteria – such as having less than $4,000 in one’s bank account – before a MediFund claim can be made, Leong suggests that the number of poor elderly in Singapore is larger than is generally admitted.

With such anticipated cost increases for general healthcare and an ever-increasing percentage of the elderly seemingly unable to afford it, it is unclear how Singaporeans are able to meet such costs of living in their golden years.

What do you think?