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MOH to look into concerns of price gap between drugs at polyclinics and private GPs as part of Healthier SG push

SINGAPORE — The Ministry of Health (MOH) will be looking into price differences for medicine between subsidised polyclinics and the clinics privately run by general practitioners (GP), Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said on Wednesday (May 18).

MOH to look into concerns of price gap between drugs at polyclinics and private GPs as part of Healthier SG push
Dr Lim Hong Shen (right) from A Medical Clinic in Everton Park near Tanjong Pagar looking on as Health Minister Ong Ye Kung (left) visited the clinic.
  • The price difference between medicines at polyclinics and private GPs was a key piece of feedback from the medical community
  • Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said this issue is one that MOH would need to think about in detail, he said
  • The ministry launched a three-month community consultation on May 18 as part of the Government's Healthier SG strategy
  • One key element of the strategy is building a relationship between Singapore patients and their private doctors

SINGAPORE — The Ministry of Health (MOH) will be looking into price differences for medicine between subsidised polyclinics and the clinics privately run by general practitioners (GP), Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said on Wednesday (May 18).

Mr Ong was speaking to reporters as MOH launched a public consultation to involve Singaporeans in the Government's Healthier SG strategy.

He said that this matter of pricing is among “the top” issues raised by doctors in initial consultations as part of the initiative, which aims to encourage Singaporeans to visit the same family physician clinics for all their needs and plan out their health goals.

The Healthier SG strategy was unveiled in Parliament during MOH's budgetary debates earlier in March.

One of the key components of the strategy is to build a trusted and lifelong relationship between Singaporeans and their family physician, who may then help develop a personalised health plan based on their specific needs.

A White Paper on this strategy will be presented in Parliament later this year.

Before launching the public consultation on Wednesday, MOH had already started engagement sessions with senior management personnel of healthcare clusters and GPs to understand their views and help create solutions.

Speaking at a media doorstop after a visit to family practice A Medical Clinic at Everton Park on Wednesday, Mr Ong said that private doctors had talked about how the price difference for medication between polyclinics and private doctors may deter some patients from visiting private clinics.

You go to a GP versus you go to a polyclinic, up to a certain point, polyclinic drug prices are cheaper. So (private doctors) say that if you want more people to come to us, you must adjust the drug prices.
Health Minister Ong Ye Kung

“You go to a GP versus you go to a polyclinic, up to a certain point, polyclinic drug prices are cheaper. So (private doctors) say that if you want more people to come to us, you must adjust the drug prices,” Mr Ong said.

He noted that it was one the main subjects of feedback that MOH had received, adding: "It is something that we have to really think hard about.”

Another common issue raised by doctors is how well information technology (IT) support systems work.

“The IT system must work well. If the IT system doesn’t work well, (the doctor) cannot pull out the information of the patient. It is very hard to work," Mr Ong said.

Dr Lim Hong Shen, medical director at A Medical Clinic, said that individually run clinics do not “have the purchasing power of a group practice”.

“So the transfer costs either the clinic zones or the patient zones... invariably, it is not fair to either parties,” he said.

As for IT system issues, he said that most of the problems brought up by doctors are minor grouses, such as ensuring technical support for 24-hour clinics.

When asked about how the Government squares spending to address these issues and the overarching aim of Healthier SG in bringing down healthcare costs, Mr Ong said that the savings will come in the long term.

“We should invest in preventive care even if it means spending some money on IT systems, considering how we level the drug subsidy between polyclinic and private clinics,” he said.

“These are things that we should do in order to reduce the pain, suffering and costs in the future.”

COVID-19 SITUATION UPDATE

Mr Ong was also asked to comment on the Covid-19 "variants of concern" BA.4 and BA.5, after the first three confirmed community cases of such Omicron sub-strains were reported here last Sunday.

Mr Ong said that the emergence of the sub-variant was “not a surprise at all” as they have been reported in many countries.

Although these sub-variants have “a transmission advantage” over earlier identified BA.1 and BA.2, Mr Ong emphasised that “so far, there has been no evidence that the BA.4 and BA.5 will cause more severe illness”.

“That is the most important because that is fundamentally how we live with a virus — which is to protect ourselves against falling severely, should we get infected.”

The public consultation launched by MOH on Wednesday will run until Aug 15 to gather views and suggestions from the ground.

Members of the public may share their thoughts via an online survey or register for one of the five engagement sessions, which kick off on May 26.

Related topics

MOH health healthier sg Ong Ye Kung GP clinic doctors prices

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