21 November 2011

Government Subsidies for Foreigner A&E Patients

Foreigners accounted for 18 per cent of the approximately 780,000 accident and emergency ("A&E") patients treated at publicly funded hospitals each year, Minister for Health Gan Kim Yong told Parliament.

The government subsidy given to foreigner A&E patients is $14 million a year.

This is less than 1 per cent of the annual $2.2 billion government subsidy given to publicly funded hospitals.

Mr Gan was justifying the government's practice of providing the same subsidy for all A&E patients, regardless of their nationality.  It kept the administrative procedures simple given that A&E departments serve patients with critical, life-threatening medical conditions or who require emergency attention.

Mr Gan appears terribly confused.

Why did he compare the A&E subsidy for foreigners with the total A&E and non-A&E subsidy for all patients at publicly funded hospitals?  The fact that the A&E subsidy for foreigners is a tiny fraction of the total subsidy for citizens and permanent residents is immaterial.  The fact that the government subsidises the country's citizens and permanent residents does not justify subsidising foreigners, even if it is for A&E treatment.

The administrative reason given for subsidising foreigner A&E patients is puzzling.  Just what is so difficult about having different rates for each of the three categories of patients — foreigners, permanent residents and citizens — when all it takes is a few clicks of the mouse?

It should not be difficult to determine whether a patient is a foreigner, a permanent resident or a citizen since his identity is required for A&E registration.  If there is any doubt, charge the full rate first and let the patient or his family prove otherwise later.

Finally, if the foreigner A&E patient subsidy is a legacy from the former Minister for Health Khaw Boon Wan, Mr Gan should have scrapped it after a review.  Why bother to change portfolios if it is not for the new minister-in-charge to look at things from a different perspective?

The $14 million a year could have been better utilised in assistance programmes for the disadvantaged.  And better appreciated too.

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Notes

1. A&E subsidies for foreigners less than 1% of $2.2b for public hospitals The Straits Times Breaking News (21 Nov 2011).


This post was updated

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