Sleepless in Singapore: 80% have sleep issues but don’t get help due to the rising costs of healthcare

The rising cost of healthcare in Singapore has also gradually diminished the country's appeal as a medical tourism hub with patients deciding to turn to adjacent countries for their medical needs

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Photo: Screen grab from the Ministry of Health, Singapore

A recent global sleep survey conducted by Royal Philips, an international leader in health technology, indicated that 80% of Singaporeans have problems sleeping but do not seek help from a medical professional primarily because they think sleep consultation and treatment fees are too expensive.

Based on a study by AON, the gross medical inflation rate of Singapore was at a high 10% in 2016 and 10% in 2017. Both numbers exceeded the global rate, where the annual gross medical inflation rate is at 8.4%. This year, medical inflation levels have outpaced the general inflation rate of 1% and is well above the global average of 8%.

According to RHB Research, the rising cost of healthcare in Singapore has gradually diminished the city-state’s charm as a medical tourism hub with patients deciding to turn to adjacent countries for their medical needs.

“As healthcare costs in neighbouring countries like Malaysia and Thailand are much lower, they have been attracting medical tourists from the region – thereby eating into Singapore’s market share,” analyst Juliana Cai said in a report.

A contradiction?

The World Health Organization (WHO), in its 2010 report, ranked Singapore 6th out of the 100 best health systems in the world. Currently, Singapore has 22 hospitals and medical facilities that are accredited by the Joint Commission International (JCI).

In general, any type of medical treatment that one may require is available in Singapore at a reasonable cost and with a high quality of service.

Healthcare infrastructure in Singapore consists of both public and private healthcare facilities with both offering a high quality of medical care but generally with different levels of service and comfort.

Health plans, insurance, and benefits vary largely and depend typically on one’s immigration status and the employer. Singapore citizens and permanent residents are entitled to subsidized government healthcare services through a compulsory national savings scheme whereas foreigners holding various work passes get the health coverage either through employers or private purchase.

It is not mandatory for employers in Singapore to provide health insurance benefits. As a general rule of thumb, the larger the company, the higher the probability that the company offers some type of health insurance benefits to its staff.

The 2019 Budget

As declared, the 2019 Budget will provide Singaporeans greater healthcare assurance which promises to make healthcare more affordable, accessible, and comprehensive.

It also vowed to provide greater social support within the community to help seniors stay active, through programmes like the PA Wellness Programme and the Community Networks for Seniors.

Together with these promises, the government has in place the MediShield Life, for all Singaporeans, to provide financial protection against large hospital bills, for life. And of course the Merdeka Generation Package which is a gesture of the government’s gratitude for the seniors’ contributions and to show care for those who are in their prime.

The package is said to provide them with better peace of mind over future healthcare costs, while helping them to stay active and healthy.

During Finance Minister Hen Swee Keat’s budget speech, he stressed that the objective of the government is “to keep Singapore strong, secure, and stable; to continue to transform our economy so that our people can benefit from growth.”

How can Singapore be kept strong, secure and stable, if its constituents cannot sleep because they are worried about the very high cost of living? How can the economy be truly transformed if its people are listless, cannot work and function properly from lack of sleep and cannot seek medical help because they cannot afford the pricey doctors, high cost of medicines, and exorbitant treatment fees and hospitalization bills?

Perhaps, Singaporeans would rather die instead?