Managing Cancer Costs in Singapore

Managing Cancer Costs in Singapore

By Shawn Lee

If you’ve only got a minute:

  • Many are worried about the costs of treating cancer. Before the introduction of the Cancer Drug List, cancer drug spending increased by 20% annually from 2016 to 2019.
  • There are various ways to fund cancer treatment costs, including government subsidies, MediShield Life, Integrated Shield Plans, company insurance, MediSave Account, critical illness insurance plans and MediFund.
  • Getting suitable medical coverage and adequate critical illness coverage significantly reduce the financial impact of a cancer diagnosis.

Cancer is not just a health crisis. It can also be a financial burden for many individuals and families.

In Singapore, the rising costs of cancer treatment have become a significant concern, leading some to explore various financial avenues to fund their medical expenses.

With statistics indicating alarming rates of cancer diagnosis and the large costs associated with treatment, understanding the financial implications and available support is important for anyone facing this challenge.

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According to the Singapore Cancer Society, 1 in 4 Singaporeans may develop cancer in their lifetime, with an average of 44 people being diagnosed with cancer every day. This highlights the urgent need to address the financial challenges associated with cancer treatment.

A recent survey of 1,200 Singapore residents showed that 42% of respondents would not be financially prepared to manage the costs of cancer treatment, reflecting the widespread concern and uncertainty surrounding this issue. Conducted in August and September 2023, the study was commissioned by DBS Bank, designed by the National University Cancer Institute, Singapore (NCIS) and Research For Impact (RFI), and conducted by Blackbox Research.

a. What is the current and future medical cost?

The escalating cost of hospitalisation adds further to the challenges faced by patients and their families. Hospital bill sizes have increased by 5% annually in public hospitals and by 7% in private hospitals over recent years.

It has been said that late-stage cancer treatment in Singapore has been projected to cost S$100,000 to S$200,000 per year which translates to a monthly expense ranging from S$8,400 to S$16,700.

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The escalating expenses in cancer treatment is caused by the rapid growth in cancer drug spending, which increased by 20% annually from 2016 to 2019. In response to this, the Ministry of Health (MOH) introduced the Cancer Drug List (CDL) to reduce the financial burden on patients.

The introduction of the CDL has led to a drop in prices for approved cancer drugs, offering some relief to patients coping with the high treatment costs. However, despite these measures, funding cancer treatment, especially costly and lengthy outpatient medical costs, remains a daunting challenge for many.

b. How can I fund treatment costs?

Various avenues exist to fund cancer treatment costs, providing patients with a range of financial options to reduce the burden. Here are some essential sources:

  • Government subsidies play a key role in assisting patients with the cost of high-cost drugs through schemes such as the Medication Assistance Fund (MAF). Patients with a Per Capita Household Income (PCHI) between S$2,800 and S$6,500 are eligible for subsidies of up to 50%, offering significant financial relief to those who qualify.
  • MediShield Life and Integrated Shield Plans (IPs) provide coverage for hospitalisation expenses and treatment costs, providing a safety net for those seeking medical coverage.

MediShield Life is a basic health insurance plan, administered by the Central Provident Fund (CPF) Board and is sized for subsidised treatment in public hospitals and pegged at B2/C-type wards.

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You can choose to enhance your medical coverage with an IP that helps to increase your outpatient drug services and outpatient cancer drug treatment coverage limits that are on the CDL. In addition, you can also add a rider to your IP which can cover you for cancer drug treatments that are outside the CDL.

However, while these insurance plans mitigate medical costs to a considerable extent, they may not cover expenses such as loss of income, highlighting the need for supplementary financial support mechanisms.

Read more: Cancer coverage changes

  • Company insurance plans offer critical illness coverage and hospitalisation benefits for employees, providing essential financial protection in the event of a cancer diagnosis. However, coverage under company insurance ceases once an employee leaves the firm. Hence it is key to arrange for alternative financial arrangements for those who have plans to switch jobs. If your firm does not offer a portable hospitalisation plan, do ensure that your own health policy provides the level of care that you desire.
  • Your CPF Medisave Account (MA) serves as a valuable source for funding cancer treatment, enabling patients to defray outpatient drug treatment costs and radiotherapy expenses.

Your MA savings can be used to pay for your own and approved dependents’ hospitalisation expenses in Singapore. The scheme can also be utilised for inpatient care, surgeries, radiosurgery treatment (including Proton Beam Therapy), outpatient radiotherapy and cancer drug treatment for cancer drugs on the CDL up to specified limits.

  • Critical Illness (CI) insurance plans provide a lump-sum payout in the event of a specified illness covered in the policy. The payout offers flexibility in managing medical expenses, alternative treatment costs and supporting individuals during the recovery phase.

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There are CI policies that cover early, intermediate to late stages of CIs. Some CI insurance may also provide multiple payouts in the event of a CI relapse. CI coverage can come in the form of cancer-only coverage plans and as stand-alone plans or as riders that can be added on to a main life insurance policy (eg. term life insurance or whole life plan).

  • MediFund is an endowment fund established by the government. It serves as a safety net for patients facing financial hardship, assisting with outstanding medical bills after government subsidies and other means of payment have been exhausted.

Every MediFund-approved institution has an independent MediFund Committee to consider and approve applications, and decide on the appropriate amount of assistance to provide. The actual amount of assistance you receive depends on you and your family members' financial, health and social circumstances, as well as the size of the medical bill incurred.

To apply, you or your family can approach the Medical Social Workers at the MediFund-approved institution at which you had treatment. In addition to MediFund, they will also be able to explore other possible financing means with you.

c. What is the coverage required?

Understanding the coverage required for cancer treatment is key for individuals navigating the challenges of healthcare financing.

Securing a suitable hospitalisation plan aligned with your healthcare preferences is essential, ensuring comprehensive coverage for medical expenses and treatment costs.

The Life Insurance Association (LIA) Singapore recommends obtaining CI protection equivalent to 4 times annual income so as to provide essential financial support for household expenses and debt payments during the recovery period.

d. What and where are my protection gaps?

Identifying gaps in your insurance coverage and addressing them proactively is crucial for anyone seeking comprehensive financial protection against cancer-related expenses.

Using digital platforms such as the Plan tab in DBS digibank can help you streamline the process of evaluating your existing coverage and identify your CI protection gaps. You can input information such as your dependents’ details and sync your insurance policies through SGFindex. The tool will automatically calculate your gap based on your existing plans, resources and needs.



In conclusion, the escalating costs of cancer treatments pose significant financial challenges for everyone.

By leveraging government subsidies, insurance, and financial assistance programmess, patients can navigate the complexities of healthcare financing and access the treatment they need.

With a good understanding of available resources and proactive financial planning, you can mitigate the financial burden of cancer treatment and focus on your journey towards recovery and well-being.

DBS has partnered with major insurers in Singapore to make health insurance easily accessible online for purchase. You can now independently learn, compare and buy a plan most suited to your own needs. Find out more on DBS Health Marketplace.

Check out digibank to analyse your real-time insurance coverage. The best part is, it’s fuss-free – we automatically work out your gaps and provide planning tips.

Plan with DBS  Plan with POSB

You may also wish to speak to the Wealth Planning Manager today for a financial health check and how you can better plan your finances.

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The information herein is published by DBS Bank Ltd (“DBS Bank”) and is for general information only and should not be relied upon as financial advice. This publication may not be reproduced, or communicated to any other person without prior written permission. This website does not take into account the specific investment objectives, financial situation or needs of any particular person. Before entering into any transaction involving any product mentioned in this website, where applicable, you should seek advice from a financial adviser regarding its suitability for your own objectives and circumstances. If you choose not to do so, you should make an independent assessment and do your own due diligence on the product. This advertisement has not been reviewed by the Monetary Authority of Singapore. The website herein is not intended for distribution to, or use by, any person or entity in any jurisdiction or country where such distribution or use would be contrary to law or regulation.

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