In June 2008, Mr. Tang was caught trying to buy a kidney for transplant from an Indonesian. He was jailed for one day and fined $17,000 for that offence. The case involved one of our top private hospitals. Following the case, the law was changed to allow people who donate their kidneys to get monetary compensation from the recipient or a voluntary organisation. A similar case involving a liver transplant in one of the 2 Slim 10 victims did not trigger such a debate or change in 2002. There were 2 victims of the side effects Slim 10 - an actress known as Andrea De Cruz and another woman called Selvarani Raja. Raja's family found a willing donor[Link] but the MOH refused to allow the transplant. There 500+ patients waiting for kidney transplants every year but only 80 transplants are done in Singapore. It is an open secret that richer kidney patients have been going to China & Phillipines for kidneys. The poorer ones on dialysis die earlier because they can't afford to go overseas. ..and this has been going on for many years. Somehow, it is only when the same tragedy befell on Tang, a retail tycoon, that the govt felt motivated enough to change the laws. In an incredible twist of fate, Tang received the kidney of one of Singapore's most notorious criminals, former triad leader, Tan Chor Jin aka One Eyed Dragon who was executed for murder.
There is only country in the developed world where the income inequality is higher than that of America - that country is Singapore. In Singapore, there are 750,000 uninsured citizens this number is far higher per capita than the number of uninsured people that trigger the healthcare crisis in America[Link]. In Obama's health care plan, there will be coverage for those with pre-existing conditions - this problem remains unsolved in Singapore - thousands of people with pre-existing conditions cannot get insurance and face the risk of financial distress and ruin. Under Obama's health care plan, there will be limits to what a person has to pay at hospital out of his own pocket. In Singapore, we are all painted this beautiful picture of a wonderful health care system that is the envy of the world - one that works and is affordable. Many people believe this because they have not gotten ill or have fallen through one of its cracks.
The other day I met an old friend with her boyfriend of 10 years. I jokingly asked them when I'll be "or kong" (fined) for their wedding. They told me sadly they will not be getting married. You see my friend was transplanted with an artificial heart valve when her natural one was destroyed during a bout of rheumatic fever when she was 12 years old. She needs regular medication and checkups. She had a number of small strokes due to blood clots and the risk of something major happening is not small. However, the reason they have decided not to get married is not because of the direct effects of her ill health - her boyfriend loves her and is willing to stand by her in 'sickness and in health'. They are not getting married because once they form a family, her medical burden will be passed on to her boy friend. He works as an engineer and with the new means testing rules his Medisave account will be completely drained once he becomes her husband. He also needs to take care of the medical need of his parents who are too old to be insured and have pre-existing conditions. I tell you this story to illustrate how health care policies affect people in ways you cannot imagine and how unaware people are of its negative aspects until they are affected by it.
Unfortunately for ordinary Singaporeans, the problems they have with the health care system is usually different from what magnates like Tang face with the system. If it is something like kidney transplant that eventually hit someone like Tang, the change comes quickly, almost overnight, to address the problem. However, most of the problems ordinary Singaporeans face such as how to finance their medical bill when they are seriously ill and their retirement will never become problems of the rich so these problems will take a long long time for the PAP govt to solve.