Monday, August 27, 2012

Relief after $180,000 bill worry

SINGAPORE - When her daughter-in-law gave birth to quadruplets last month, she worried about how the family was going to pay the staggering medical bills ($180,000 and counting) incurred as a result of the births.

But there is some relief after the Ministry of Health (MOH) made an exception and allowed Madam Lily Lim, 52, and her husband to use their Medisave savings to help pay their grandchildren's bills.

Madam Lim's daughter-in-law, Ms Jennifer Pan, 28 (pictured), gave birth by caesarean section at Gleneagles Hospital last month to what is believed to be Singapore's first set of quadruplets since 2008.

Ms Pan,an assistant treasury manager at acommodities trading company here, had taken fertility medication, but did not undergo in-vitro fertilisation, The Straits Times reported.

Janessa, Joelle, Jovianne and Kingsley (the only boy) were born on July 19.

In a letter to The Straits Times forum, published last Wednesday, Madam Lim said: "Having quadruplets was a joyous occasion, but it was marred by the financial hole it created."

She said the hospital bill totalled some $180,000 and explained that the babies were born premature and have to stay in the hospital for almost two months in the intensive care unit (ICU).

The ICU charges alone were reported as $1,000 for each baby a day.

The bills also include an estimated $25,000 for Ms Pan's month-long hospital stay and an obstetrician fee of $23,000.

Madam Lim added: "My husband and I wanted to help them by dipping into our Medisave account, but the Central Provident Fund blocked it with the reply that grandchildren could not use their grandparents' Medisave."

Unique circumstances

Madam Lim is the founder of a confinement nanny agency.

She and her husband have about $90,000 in their Medisave savings, Chinese newspaper Shin Min Daily News reported. The babies' father, Mr Phua Jiun Wei, 28, runs the agency.

In response to media queries, an MOH spokesman said it has "agreed to allow the grandparents to use their Medisave to help with the bills, considering their family's unique circumstances".

The spokesman said parents can use their Medisave to pay for their child's hospitalisation expenses.

But as elderly persons tend to incur more medical expenses than younger persons, grandparents cannot use their Medisave to help pay for their grandchildren's medical bills.

This is to ensure that the grandparents themselves have sufficient Medisave savings for their own hospitalisation needs, especially after retirement.

The spokesman said: "In circumstances such as in Madam Lim's case, where the grandparents have requested for their Medisave to be used, we will assess such requests on a case-by-case basis.

"We understand that the family has also appealed to Gleneagles Hospital for assistance for the babies' hospital and doctor charges."

The spokesman said that all hospitals are required to provide financial advice to their patients regarding their treatment.

"Patients are encouraged to choose a care setting most appropriate to their financial situation.

"In the restructured hospitals, Singaporeans can receive subsidies of up to 80 per cent of their total bill, and can also be assisted by Medifund or other hospital assistance schemes if they still face difficulties in settling their bill."

Ministry in touch with family

MOH understands the concerns faced by Madam Lim and her family, and has been in touch with them, the spokesman said.

When contacted, Madam Lim declined comment.

Dr Lam Pin Min, chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Health, told The New Paper that he was glad to know that MOH has exercised flexibility according to the special circumstance in this particular case.

"I do understand the anxiety caused in cases where hospitalisation bills can be hefty and the helplessness in relieving the financial burden although there are significant amounts in the Medisave accounts," he said.

"The restriction on the use of Medisave needs to be reviewed regularly to commensurate with the medical needs of Singaporeans.

"However, we need to exercise caution as a too rapid liberalisation may result in premature depletion of members' Medisave savings," he said.

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