Healthcare forum debates sustainability of 3M system

February 19, 2013

Healthcare forum debates sustainability of 3M system

by Tan Qiu Yi


An online copy of the article can be found here.


SINGAPORE: A comprehensive review, or a complete do-away with the Medisave, Medishield and MediFund schemes?

These were some of the questions raised at a forum on Singapore's healthcare policies.

The forum, held at the National University of Singapore's Tembusu College, saw a panel of health experts speak on the challenges and gaps in the Singapore healthcare system.

Medisave, Medishield and MediFund, or the 3Ms, cover between 10 and 15 per cent of Singaporeans' total healthcare expenditure, said Dr Phua Kai Hong, who is from the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.

Some at the forum asked if coverage should be increased to lower citizens' out-of-pocket spending.

Singapore currently spends about 4 per cent of its GDP on healthcare every year. This is compared to an average of 9.6 per cent for other advanced economies.

Several panellists called for a thorough review of the healthcare system. 

"There's far too much emphasis on the financial sustainability of the system. Often this is to the detriment of the individual patient. So the patient has to struggle with means testing, with going to family members to tap on their Medisave accounts… In this national conversation, how can we ensure better financial protection of the individual, even if the state assumes a little bit more of this risk? If we can do that, I think many Singaporeans (would be able to) genuinely have that peace of mind," said Dr Jeremy Lim, who is a principal consultant with Insights Health Associates.

"Healthcare is a basic human right; most of us do not choose to get sick… As a society we need to pull our risk together and that's why we believe a compulsory health insurance system, administered through central means, is the best way of doing this," said Paul Ananth Tambyah, who is an associate professor at the National University of Singapore's Yong Yoo Lin School of Medicine. 

However Dr Lam Pin Min, who is chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee (GPC) for Health, said that there was no perfect healthcare system.

"Having had the 3M system for the past 20 years, we (know) what they can do and what they cannot do. If the Ministry of Health is able to have a thorough review, the 3M system (could) evolve (into) a better system," said Dr Lam.


The Tembusu (Fagraea fragrans) is a large evergreen tree in the family Gentianaceae. It is native to Southeast Asia. Its trunk is dark brown, with deeply fissured bark, looking somewhat like a bittergourd. It grows in an irregular shape from 10 to 25m high. Its leaves are light green and oval in shape. Its yellowish flowers have a distinct fragrance and the fruits of the tree are bitter tasting red berries, which are eaten by birds and fruit bats.