1 in 5 debtors due to medical expenses?


How many people get into debt because of medical expenses?

I refer to the article “‘I don’t know how to face my children’: How one woman fell prey to 50 loan sharks” (Channel NewsAsia, Jun 7).

It states that “”I had gotten married without savings and I needed a house to stay,” Madam Tan, who is in her early 40s, told reporters at the Police Cantonment Complex on Thursday (Jun 7).

As she had to pay a cash premium for the house, she took out a S$10,000 bank loan. Over the years, when her kids needed hospital treatment, she maxed out her credit cards to pay the bills.

In 2010, her husband lost his job which pays roughly S$3,000 a month. When Madam Tan, who works in an administrative job, couldn’t service the bank loan and credit card payments, her furniture was seized – twice.”

In this connection, according to the article “How to Get Out of Debt” (The Finder, Jul 31, 2015) – “People generally spend more during festive seasons and during periods of major sales,” says Tan Huey Min, general manager of CCS. Other reasons include suffering a pay cut or job loss (one in two clients), medical reasons (one in four), extending a loan to others (one in five) or due to their business (one in five).”

According to the article “Debt woes dip as economy picks up” ( April 1, 2011) – Of those who sought help from Credit Counselling Singapore (CCS) for medical debts, 20.9 per cent were Singaporeans and 36.6 per cent, permanent residents (PRs). Aren’t you rather surprised to see that last year (2010), medical expense was one of the top reasons for indebtedness?

The Ministry of Health (MOH) has regularly maintained that health care is affordable in Singapore, under our 3Ms (Medisave, MediShield  and Medifund).

So, why do the CCS statistics seem to indicate otherwise?

I understand that the last reported statistics (2011) from Credit Counselling Singapore was that about 21 per cent of Singaporeans who sought credit counselling were due to medical fees.

According to a reply in parliament – the public hospitals were owed $48 million in arrears last year (2011), accounting for 136,000 bills outstanding for two months or more, despite writing off $90 million in FY 2008, FY 2009 and FY 2010, public hospitals’ patients still owed $110 million in arrears (“Data that may help in review of healthcare system“, Business Times, Mar 7, 2012).

According to the article “More debtors seek help from Credit Counselling Singapore” (Business Times, Oct 28, 2014) – “In good and bad times, however, there will always be individuals who will get into debt problems because of overspending or other factors like a bout of unemployment or medical expenses.”

So, is healthcare really affordable in Singapore?

What do you think?

Leong Sze Hian


About the Author

Leong Sze Hian has served as the president of 4 professional bodies, honorary consul of 2 countries, an alumnus of Harvard University, authored 4 books, quoted over 1500 times in the media , has been a radio talkshow host, a newspaper daily columnist, Wharton Fellow, SEACeM Fellow, columnist for theonlinecitizen and Malaysiakini, executive producer of Ilo Ilo (40 international awards), Hotel Mumbai (associate producer), invited to speak more than 200 times in about 40 countries, CIFA advisory board member, founding advisor to the Financial Planning Associations of 2 countries. He has 3 Masters, 2 Bachelors degrees and 13 professional  qualifications.