Singaporeans will struggle to afford healthcare costs of living to 100 - Study

| 24 Jul 2019

From L: R - Dr Jeremy Lim, Partner, Oliver Wyman, Prof Lim Wee Shiong, Senior Consultant, Tan Tock Seng Hospital, Dr Sidharth Kachroo, Head of Medical Portfolio Management, Prudential Singapore and Tan Ping Ping, Head, Corporate Affairs, Prudential Singapore

Nearly half (49%) of healthcare practitioners believe Singaporeans are, to some degree, unprepared for the health-related expenses of living to 100, according to Prudential Singapore's 'Healthy for 100' study.

One of the reasons is due to growing multi-morbidity – the development of more than one chronic condition. More than half of Singapore’s residents who are older than 60 falls into this category. This means that while Singaporeans are living longer with an average lifespan of 83.1 and inching towards 100, many of them are spending their longer years in ill health, said the company.

Containment of rising costs

Unsurprisingly, the healthcare strategy these healthcare practitioners named as most likely to help Singapore prepare for an ageing population is not new technology or specific medical interventions, but simply containment of rising costs (51%).


Dr Jeremy Lim, Partner and Head of Health and Life Sciences Asia Pacific, Oliver Wyman, said that this is “a very legitimate concern. Singapore, like the rest of the world, has seen healthcare inflation far outpace general inflation”.

Download the Healthy for 100 report here

On the other hand, he warns that the issue can be overblown from the perspective of the patient, though not the government’s. A combination of mandatory savings into Medisave accounts and enrolment into Medishield Life insurance for high-cost interventions covers much of the expense of outpatient and hospital care, especially for individuals willing to stay in wards rather than private rooms while inpatients. Moreover, for older residents, age-based subsidies and grants greatly reduce Medishield Life premiums.

Prevention cannot be overemphasised

84% of the survey respondents said Singapore’s healthcare system must place more emphasis on disease prevention and 70% said individuals need to be responsible for supporting their own healthy ageing.

The panel of experts at the launch of the report was unanimous in highlighting the importance of prevention, too.

Dr Lim Wee Shiong, Senior Consultant, Institute of Geriatrics and Active Ageing, Tan Tock Seng Hospital, said, “The focus on disease prevention cannot be overemphasised—it is extremely critical from a long-term perspective. Good health when one is old does not happen by chance but is the consequence of preparation.”

Dr Sidharth Kachroo, Head of Medical Portfolio Management, Prudential Singapore, said, “The earlier we start taking care of our well-being by keeping to a good diet and lifestyle, the higher are our chances of ageing well. After all, good health is earned, not given.”

A more integrated approach to healthcare

The survey’s respondents also identify better integration of care around the patient as one way to prepare for an ageing population and a rise in multi-morbidity. They pointed out that Singapore’s healthcare system lacks coordination across various care providers and is over dependent on specialist care.

Two in five healthcare practitioners believe that a more integrated approach where there is synergy between primary care, hospitals, long-term care and home care could reduce inefficiencies, hospitalisation time and costs.

The report also highlighted the need for new funding models. Currently, the system is funded on a model where fees are determined by the amount and type of treatments given to a patient. A model where patient fees are determined by the improvement in their health could be a better approach to pricing healthcare.

Making healthcare affordable and accessible

Mr Wilf Blackburn, CEO, Prudential Singapore, said: “As medical costs continue to rise, we must evaluate the role we can play in making healthcare more affordable and accessible. As insurers, this means changing the way we engage with customers. We want to go beyond covering their medical bills to coming up with innovative solutions that can help them live well for longer. Staying healthy is the best strategy to keep one’s medical expenses low in the long run.”

The United Nations projects that Singapore’s rate of ageing over the next two decades will be the fastest that any country has seen over such a period. By 2030, an expected 900,000, or one in four Singaporeans, will be over the age of 65.

The ‘Healthy for 100? Healthy care in Singapore’ study surveyed 200 healthcare practitioners. The report was researched and written by The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU).  

(All pictures and visuals courtesy of Prudential Singapore)

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