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Diabetes in Singapore: How the growing epidemic affects your future

Sugar_binary_88332-1471428094.jpgDiabetes has become one of the most prevalent diseases in the world, and in many countries, the number of people with the disease is growing at an alarming rate largely due to poor diet and a lifestyle that promotes spending long times sitting or not moving. At first glance, almost all of the information and news around diabetes talks about the US and growing problems in the UK. While the US does lead the world in the number of cases of diabetes, it has become a problem of growing concern for all parties – from doctors to the government to even health insurance providers -in Singapore.

Because diabetes has become a large concern in Singapore, it is important to know more about the disease, what is being done to curb it, and finally the impact it can have on one of the most necessary elements for expats in Singapore: their health insurance.

Diabetes in Singapore

While it can be hard to accurately pinpoint just how many people have this disease, the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) puts the number at around 387 million worldwide, with just over 500,000 people aged between 20 and 79 having the disease in Singapore (as of 2014).

According to statistics on the SingHealth website, the percentage of people with diabetes in Singapore was just 4.7% in 1984. Now, according to the IDF, its prevalence is almost 13% among those aged 20 to 79. This is a fairly large growth that is forecasted to exponentially increase if nothing is done,

While the prevalence is quite high, it becomes even more worrying when you look at the comparison chart on the IDF’s website. It shows that for people 40 and older, the prevalence of diabetes in Singapore is not only higher than the world average, but is also higher than the regional average. While the chart does show that figures are lower for younger people in Singapore, a recent news article published by Channel NewsAsia highlights a study on diabetes in Asia that found that 3 in 10 patients with diabetes in Singapore had it before they turned 40 – the highest ratio of all the countries included in the report.

What are the government and other organizations doing to help manage diabetes?

Combined, this information paints what appears to be a highly troubling picture. That being said, there are a wide variety of organizations – both government backed and private – that are stepping in to help curb the impact the disease is having on the population.

First, both private and public hospitals and centers have opened, or operate, diabetes-oriented clinics or services. For example, the Changi General Hospital offers a wide variety of diabetes services and resources offered by specialists through their diabetes center. Other options include Abbot Singapore, a local branch of a world-wide organization that focuses on helping people with diabetes manage the disease. By employing specialists, many of these centers are able to offer high quality information and medical help that can really help improve the quality of life of those living with diabetes.

Second, the government medical branches have created online websites that provide a wealth of information on the disease, treatment options, stats, etc. Visit the SingHealth Diabetes site, for example, and you have quick and easy access to almost all information you could need about the disease and treatment. Other sites like health Xchange offer a wide variety of articles that focus on diabetes. The Ministry of Health also has a wealth of information, including guides like this one, that set guidelines on how to diagnose and treat diabetes. While aimed at doctors, it is an interesting resource for anyone looking to learn more about what your doctor is doing and why.

Third, the Ministry of Health, working with other organizations, has been constantly looking for new methods to help make the management of diabetes easier. One of the most successful methods to date has been the increasing effectiveness of various oral medications like pills. For example, the Channel NewsAsia article mentioned above also notes that in 2014 the Health Sciences Authority approved a new oral medication called JANUMET XR that combines two powerful diabetic medications into one pill, that when combined with diet and exercise has been proven to lower blood sugar. This is just one of the many drugs currently being considered, and taking steps to approve new ones can drastically improve the quality of life for many people.

Of course, we can’t all rely on the government and other organizations to solve the problem, but by offering services and professional advice they can allow people with diabetes to take the steps necessary to manage or even prevent the disease. Still, it will take time to eliminate or even reduce cases of the disease, so in the meantime costs related to it will be going up. One of these costs that you need to be aware of, and that may not be apparent at first, is that of health insurance.

What about my health insurance?

Any way you look at it, trends show that the number of cases of diabetes in the city is on the rise. This means that more people will be seeking treatment for this disease, which will put strain on the health care system. This increased strain will be met in a number of ways, but for citizens and expats alike it will translate to an increase in health care costs.

Because many expats and locals have private health insurance, they will likely be submitting claims to insurance providers. This subsequent increase in claims, and payouts for one type of disease will be passed along to the policyholders in the form of increased premiums.

Beyond that, if enough cases are recorded, many insurance providers will start to view patients with diabetes as even higher risk (many already view them as high risk). If you have diabetes, some providers won’t even cover treatments related to this disease. Others will still cover it, but will increase the loading on premiums. So, when you go to look for a new plan, you will be asked to pay a certain percentage over the advertised premium if you want the plan to cover diabetes treatments. In Singapore, this can be as much as 50% of the premium and will likely be higher in the future.

In other words, an increase in the number of diabetes cases will increase your premiums, and if you already have it, will force you to pay even more for coverage. Luckily, in Singapore there are a wealth of plans available. This means that there is a good chance that there is a plan available that offers ample coverage. We suggest working with a broker, like Pacific Prime Singapore, who can help you find a plan that best meets your needs.

Special offer for Expat Living Singapore readers!

Want to avoid an extra 50% diabetes cover on your insurance premium? Fill out the Pacific Prime query box on the top right side of this page. Pacific Prime will compare plans and find the best coverage for you.