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Extension of Medisave for overseas hospitalisation

Partner Institute: 
Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, National University of Singapore
Survey no: 
Lim Meng Kin
Health Policy Issues: 
Funding / Pooling, Remuneration / Payment
Current Process Stages
Idea Pilot Policy Paper Legislation Implementation Evaluation Change
Implemented in this survey? no no no no yes no no
Featured in half-yearly report: Health Policy Developments 13


With effect from 1 March 2010, Singaporean citizens and permanent residents are, under certain conditions, able to use their compulsory medical savings, Medisave, to help pay for non-emergency hospitalisation in approved hospitals overseas. Previously, outside Singapore they could only use Medisave for emergency hospitalisation.

Recent developments

Aim of this policy is to enable Singaporean patients to take advantage of the lower cost of hospitalisation available in neighbouring countries.

Singapore and its closest neighbour, Malaysia, are connected by a causeway that is only three-quarter miles long, or about an hour's drive by car, taking into consideration the need for passport clearance at the border. Indeed, the two countries were united as one political entity for two years between 1963 to 1965, when Singapore was part of Malaysia in a federal union of fourteen states. For Singapore, however, the political union failed and so it alone became ejected as an independent, sovereign island-state. Largely owing to differences in cost structures that have increasingly widened since separation, the cost of healthcare in Malaysia is generally much lower than in Singapore, as illustrated in Table 1.


Table 1: Price comparison of selected procedures done in Singapore and in Johor (the state that is closest to Singapore), Malaysia

Procedure                     Specialist Hospital in Johor                 Specialist Hospital in Singapore

Removal of Haemorrhoids            S$1,667                                    S$3,142

Total knee replacement                 S$8,333                                   S$16,765

Stent for blocked heart vessels      S$7,500                                  S$19,730

(Source: Straits Times, figures cited are from from Health Management International and Ministry of Health, Singapore)


The idea of crossing the border for cheaper healthcare (and indeed, for a whole range of produce and services) has certainly not been lost on Singaporeans, and indeed, many do. Over the years, the government of Singapore has received requests from many Singaporeans to allow them to tap on their Medisave accounts for elective hospitalisation overseas, particularly in neighbouring Malaysia.

The main concern, however, has been that Singapore's Ministry of Health has no regulatory jurisdiction over overseas hospitals, and cannot be sure of their standards. It would also be difficult to audit the hospitals when problems, such as fraudulent Medisave claims, arise.

Thus, in announcing the relaxation of the policy, the MoH noted that a commonly expressed fear, whether founded or unfounded, is that potential patients are unsure of the standard of healthcare in Malaysia, and stipulated the following conditions:

a. Medisave usage will only be limited to hospitalizations and day surgeries, i.e. it cannot be used for outpatient treatment;

b. The overseas hospital must have an approved working arrangement with a Medisave-accredited institution/referral centre in Singapore;

c. The patient must be referred through a Medisave-accredited institution/referral centre in Singapore;

d. The accredited local institution/referral centre must provide pre-admission clinical assessment and financial counselling to the interested patient; satisfaction and clinical outcome.

e. The local centre will be accountable for patient satisfaction and clinical outcome.

The scheme has started off with two healthcare providers that are headquartered in Singapore, namely: Health Management International (HMI) which has two hospitals in neighbouring Malaysia, and Parkway Holdings Pte Ltd., which has 10 hospitals in Malaysia. Both groups are also listed companies on the Singapore Exchange.

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Characteristics of this policy

Degree of Innovation traditional innovative innovative
Degree of Controversy consensual neutral highly controversial
Structural or Systemic Impact marginal rather fundamental fundamental
current current   previous previous

Purpose and process analysis

Current Process Stages

Idea Pilot Policy Paper Legislation Implementation Evaluation Change
Implemented in this survey? no no no no yes no no

Initiators of idea/main actors

  • Government
  • Providers
  • Patients, Consumers

Actors and positions

Description of actors and their positions
Ministry of Healthvery supportivevery supportive strongly opposed
Private providersvery supportivevery supportive strongly opposed
Patients, Consumers
Patientsvery supportivevery supportive strongly opposed
current current   previous previous

Actors and influence

Description of actors and their influence

Ministry of Healthvery strongvery strong none
Private providersvery strongweak none
Patients, Consumers
Patientsvery strongweak none
current current   previous previous
Private providers, PatientsMinistry of Health

Positions and Influences at a glance

Graphical actors vs. influence map representing the above actors vs. influences table.

Monitoring and evaluation

According to a check conducted by a Singaporean newspaper about six months after implementation, many of the patients who used Medisave across the border did so for obstetrics treatment.

To date, HMI has had 23 Medisave patients seeking medical treatment at its two hospitals in Malaysia - the Regency Specialist Hospital in Johor Baru and Mahkota Medical Centre in Malacca. 15 of these have sought obstetrics treatment. Nine have already given birth and six are waiting to deliver. While only four out of the 16 cases referred to Parkway Holdings' hospitals are related to births, the majority of the queries received were about obstetrics procedures, a spokesman said.

Others sought treatment for procedures such as coronary angiogram, cataracts, total knee replacement and total hip replacement.

Expected outcome

The liberalization of Medisave for overseas treatment is expected to be an important driving factor for an influx of Singaporean residents to accredited hospitals in Malaysia.

Impact of this policy

Quality of Health Care Services marginal marginal fundamental
Level of Equity system less equitable neutral system more equitable
Cost Efficiency very low high very high
current current   previous previous

Between 2008 and 2009, the increase in the average bill sizes in Singapore's public sector hospitals ranged from three per cent for Class B1 to 10 per cent for Class B2. Extending the usage of Medisave to overseas therefore is increasingly seen as a viable option for receiving affordable healthcare.


Sources of Information

  • Ministry of Health Press Release. Medisave for Approved Overseas Hospitalisation,10 Feb 2010
  • Melissa Pang. PRs opting to give birth in Malaysia using Medisave. Sunday Times Singapore, 4 Jul, 2010, Sunday

Author/s and/or contributors to this survey

Lim Meng Kin

National University of Singapore

Suggested citation for this online article

Lim Meng Kin. "Extension of Medisave for overseas hospitalisation". Health Policy Monitor, October 2010. Available at