MOH told public hospitals to stop paying agents to bring in foreign patients

Singaporeans' healthcare remains the priority.

Joshua Lee | November 21, 2018, 09:11 AM

Upon the orders of the Ministry of Health (MOH), public health institutions (PHI) have ceased contracts with agents for foreign patient referrals.

This was revealed by Senior Minister of State for Health Lam Pin Min during a Parliamentary Sitting on November 20.

SGH, CGH, NUH previously engaged third party agents

According to a Straits Times report in September this year, Changi General Hospital (CGH), Singapore General Hospital (SGH), and National University Hospital (NUH) had contracts with third-party agents who referred patients from overseas.

In the case of NUH, an Indonesian agent was paid 8 per cent of the patients hospital bill (excluding doctor's fees) for every patient referred.

If the patient spent more than S$500,000, the agent got an additional 2 per cent cut for every dollar above S$500,000.

If the patient spent more than S$1 million, the agent got an additional 4 per cent cut for every dollar above the S$1 million cap.

Lam was responding to Parliamentary Questions by Aljunied GRC MP Pritam Singh and Tampines GRC MP Cheng Li Hui.

Singh asked:

  1. Whether the Ministry will reschedule or bring forward the specialist appointment dates of subsidised Singaporean patients arising from the Ministry's decision to stop referral contracts for foreign patients in public hospitals.

Cheng's questions were:

  1. How long have public hospitals been engaging foreign agents to bring in overseas patients?
  2. Whether the Ministry is aware of these practices; and (c) whether the foreign patients crowd out Singaporeans in our healthcare services.

Singaporeans' healthcare is priority

In response, Lam reiterated that Singapore's PHIs are "not allowed to actively market themselves to foreign patients", adding that the priority of PHIs is to serve the healthcare needs of Singaporeans.

Lam said that none of the PHI have contracts with these agents anymore.

Lam added that foreign patients who travel to Singapore for treatment make up a low proportion of the total inpatient volume each year:

"Between 2013 and 2017, such patients make up about 1.5 per cent of the total inpatient and day surgery attendances at our PHIs. Those whose referrals were supported by contracted service providers constituted about 0.4 per cent of attendances in PHIs that had such contracts."

When asked for absolute figures on the number of foreign patients, Lam said that 1.5 per cent is about 10,900 patients. In other words, about 10,900 foreign patients were treated at public hospitals in 2017.

Lam also stressed that foreign patients "have not impacted our PHI’s delivery of services and subsidised appointment slots given to Singaporeans".

On the contrary, median waiting time for new subsidised specialist appointments decreased from 28 days in 2013 to 22 in the first half of 2018.

Lam also assured Singaporeans that Singaporeans remain the majority of patients treated at PHIs.


Top photo via CGH Facebook page.