THE key to a sustainable healthcare system is to take politics out of it, minimise market distortion and to let it function like other economic activity.
This is what Singapore is trying to do, said Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan at the Economist conference on Tuesday.
Mr Khaw emphasised that it was important for politicians to tell the truth, and not promise free health for all. There is no such thing as free healthcare. 'Every healthcare service is eventually paid for by the patient, either through taxes, or reduced wages. Ultimately, patients and their families pay for the bills,' he said.
In the past, with a largely young population, countries could afford to spend money on 'high-tech, high-cost healthcare'. But ageing populations and slower economic growth makes this unsustainable. The health reform in the United States is 'an important step forward,' but 'is clearly not deep enough,' he added.
On the Singapore experience, Mr Khaw said the its total national healthcare spending was below US$8 billion (S$11.2 billion) - which is less than 4 per cent of its GDP.
But he hastened to add that in the past decade, while the annual Consumer Price Index rises averaged 1.5%, the annual health inflation was 2.9 per cent. 'So our National Health Expenditure would not stay at 4 per cent of GDP. With the ageing of our population, it will rise further. But if we could sustain it at a single digit per cent of GDP, it would be a remarkable achievement,' said the minister.
In his speech, Mr Khaw also cautioned against over-specialisation. 'For the elderly with several chronic illnesses, treatment by multiple sub-specialists is often not the best approach. This often ends up as fragmented care without necessarily better outcomes,' he explained.
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SPEECH BY MINISTER KHAW BOON WAN, MINISTER FOR HEALTH, AT THE “HEALTHCARE IN ASIA” CONFERENCE ON 30 MARCH 2010 AT 9.00AM AT FULLERTON HOTEL
Also discussed at:
3Apr2010 (Don't politicise healthcare)