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The Price of Life

This is part 2 of what i submitted to public house


The Price of Life – Part 2


More than ten years ago, someone I knew was diagnosed with cancer. Since the family was fairly well-to-do, she sought treatment from a private hospital. Several hundred thousand dollars later, she passed away. Her husband was devastated. Not long after, he complained of feeling unwell. A battery of tests were ran on him but doctors were still perplexed. They could not find the reason for his illness. While still in hospital, while still being tested, he passed away. His bill – several hundred thousand dollars. This couple owned a house in a fairly good location. The valuation of the house just about covered the bills. Thankfully, his children did not need to get into debt in order to pay the hospital bills. The irony in this story is that while not mentioned in his will, the biggest beneficiary of his estate was the healthcare industry. He, and countless like him, has made it possible for the industry to remain profitable.  No wonder health related shares are the darlings of the stock market, in good times or bad.


Was the treatment worth it? I have been reminded again and again of the importance of the economy to the country. So while I cannot do it for others, in order to help my children take a prudent decision, perhaps it is time for me to look at how much my remaining days are worth.


For a start, I did not work for much of my life. Family and children have always been far more important to me than career. So as a rough estimate, and spreading it out over the years, I probably earned an average of $15000 a year for the past 25 years. That would mean a lifetime earnings of $450 000, and I am erring on the side of generosity. The choice of staying home also meant we hardly have any savings – after all it is not easy to live on a single income. I have had health challenges for the last 10 years. So while I think I am fit to work, I cannot over-stretch myself. Currently, I hardly work at all, except for piecemeal, freelance work that sometimes come my way. If I want to be generous, let me just assume that the next medical report is a positive one and I can get back to part time work – if I can find a job that is. Say I then can earn $15000 per annum. If I do survive until age 62, I have the capacity to earn another $150 000. Technically, that is all my remaining life is worth – $150 000.


So how does it make economical sense for medical costs to be so high? How can $600 pills, thousand – dollar MRI scans, several hundred thousand dollar hospital stays be justified? How can medical costs exceed what some one can earn in a lifetime?


Ah, you say, your contribution to the family and to society cannot be pegged on money alone. Your love, your care your prayers are worth much more. In fact they are priceless. I certainly hope that not everything we do out of love has to be valued in monetary terms. I’d like to think that when I am gone, I will be remembered not because of the money or jewellery I leave behind, but for the joy I had given to those who survive me. But let us be practical. While life is priceless, can we afford to live? How have you, as a government, made it possible to sustain life? Or are you paying lip service to the value of my life?


Current discussions have been going on and on about how to pay for healthcare. I think before we even begin to consider payment, we should consider the cost. What has made healthcare costs so high?


Like many others, I am painfully aware of the importance of health insurance. At several stages of my life, depending on the medication prescribed, I have had to foot $800 or so a month for treatment. Fortunately the cash element has been kept manageable, thanks to the twin contribution from medisave and medishield. Cash element in the bill is NOT the total cost. So when former Minister of Health, Mr Khaw, spoke about $8 heart bypass, that does not tell you how much the operation actually cost. Being able to pay cannot justify the cost.


As hospitals are privatized, profits must be generated. Just look at the argumentsSMRTput forth to justify fare increases. Shareholders have to be looked after, and CEO bonuses too. Costs will not come down. If the government load heavy registration costs onto already expensive medication, refuse to subsidise new and improved drugs, cost of medication can only escalate. Medical insurances, including medishield are provided by private insurance companies. A public listed company always aims to generate profits. If medical costs soar, if claims increase, premiums will naturally go up too. If healthcare costs are not controlled, if we continue to pursue profit at every turn, at the same time find what seems to be legitimate reasons to justify a reduction in subsidies, then the day will come when most will not be able to afford insurance even.


My husband and I only have one property – an hdb flat. The value of this flat has risen in recent years. It gives me some hope that we can retire and not be a burden to the children, should we downgrade. If we pass on before that time, we hope that the children will have a tiny inheritance each, to help them along this very expensive, difficult world where salaries stagnate and costs soar. We have no intention of contributing to the extremely lucrative healthcare world by making them the beneficiaries of the little we have accumulated through the struggles of our lives. In other words, when push comes to shove, we would opt to cease treatment.


To me, the first consideration in healthcare budgeting is not how to pay, but how to reduce cost. To me, it means that as an example, the government cannot look at healthcare from the perspective of how to ensure profitability. Healthcare facilities for the public, like public educational institutions must be seen as cost centres, not profit centres. Furthermore it is time for the government to review how much the life of a citizen is worth, and budget accordingly.


It’s time to show us that you are worth what you are paid. Stop telling us the problems. Show us some answers.


Categories: Uncategorized
  1. kwek keng han
    November 25, 2011 at 5:48 pm

    Thank you so much for such an insightful article. I just hope that this government will address this problem squarely and quickly before we are all prematurely driven to our graves by our ridiculously costly medical system. After slogging for an entire life just to make a living, where is the fairness when all that you have accummulated for your retirement can be wiped out overnight just because you have fallen sick.

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