Do SingHealth institutions allow credit companies to hound you for unpaid bills?

By September 23, 2019 February 24th, 2020 Health, Personal Finance

On 19 September 2019, we came across a post in a Facebook group called ‘COMPLAINT SINGAPORE’ as shown below. The post was also shared on All Singapore Stuff’s Facebook page.

The OP uploaded a copy of a bill reminder dated 3 September for his visits to Singapore General Hospital (SGH) in July and August, amounting to $298.25. He also uploaded another bill reminder dated 16 September 2019 for outstanding payment amounting to $259.25. In the post, he warned readers to steer clear of SingHealth institutions as he made the following allegations:

Allegation 1: While SingHealth institutions allow you to pay your bills later, they will still engage ‘credit companies to come after you’ to settle the amount indicated in the bill.

This is partially true.

SGH posted the following statement on their Facebook page:

Essentially for patients with outstanding bills like the OP, text messages and reminder letters will be sent to them. Outstanding bills will only be referred to the appointed collection agencies after 6 weeks.

As per SingHealth policy – for patients who have expressed financial difficulty, the hospital will explore options for financial assistance wherever appropriate or consider payment by installments. There is also an option made available online to make partial payments that allows patients to key in the amount they wish to pay.  If a patient is still not able to pay for the medical expenses in a public hospital, the Medifund can be considered.

Allegation 2: Collection agencies will charge interest.

This is true.

Debt collection agencies usually charge interest if there are accounts with outstanding charges due for collection. It is a general rule among such services to authorise additional fees, inclusive of interests or any other expenses incidental to the original debt, which will be indicated in an agreement between the collector and debtor.

Expanding further on those terms, the Credit Collection Association of Singapore (CCAS) has also highlighted that creditors who are involved in debt recovery have to adhere to the following:

  1. Make clear all costs and charges added to debts, including the legal or contractual basis for any interest applied, and
  2. Only impose such costs and interest on debtors as it is lawfully entitled.

(For a better overview of CCAS’ code of practice, click here.)

While a patient is given an option to contact the collection agency for any concerns regarding payment, a full takeover will result in a direct engagement between the patient and the collection agency. Collection agencies may have a bad rep for their aggressive tactics but it is possible to negotiate for interest-free payments, allowing them to make such arrangements with their client – in this case, SGH.

There is also a clause included in CCAS handbook on ethical practices that debtors should be allowed the flexibility to consider reducing or stopping interest, charges or fees being applied to the account if the debtor has demonstrated financial difficulties.

It should come as no surprise that if you’ve fallen behind on your bills, you may be hearing from debt collectors as stated clearly in the original bill reminder. But there are a number of things that they aren’t likely to tell you, and knowing these things can make all the difference in resolving your debts.

One Comment

  • James says:

    Very good fact-check article. I think the crux of this whole issue is whether Government Restructured Hospitals, hospitals owned by government but operated as private companies should hire private debt collection agencies for their debt collection. While it is open to debate on whether it is a “common practice” for private companies to hire debt collection agencies to handle their debt and I can understand the hospital’s POV that it is cost-effective to do so, I do not agree that they should hire such agencies.

    The ownership of the hospital is the government. As public hospitals, the hospitals serve a wide spectrum of patients from the richest to the poorest and those stuck in between. Patients’ financial status vary widely and it could be one of the reasons they choose public hospitals over private hospitals for their medical issues. The government therefore has a responsibility to empathise with these patients and should not engage private debt collectors to increase their stress and burden. While there may be some patients that tried to “abuse the system”, I believe a majority of public hospital patients paid up punctually and only delay their payments when they couldn’t afford it at all. If our public schemes could not be used to help these patients, it would mean gaps within our healthcare system.

    Finally, there are alternatives to debt management that public hospitals could employ, such as leveraging on technology and mobile apps to send bill reminder notifications on MOH’s owned HealthHub app instead of an unfriendly guy from a private debt collection agency. In fact, more can be done to encourage people to pay their bills instead of just leaving it to the “common norms” of hiring a private debt collection agency.

    Above is solely my opinion.

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