betty August 19, 2022

SINGAPORE – A new chemotherapy and cancer treatment cost calculator was launched on Friday (Aug 19) to help patients estimate their expenses, in the light of upcoming changes to the Ministry of Health’s (MOH) cancer insurance model.

From next month, only clinically proven and cost-effective drug treatments on a new Cancer Drug List will be eligible for claims under MediSave and MediShield Life, as part of efforts to rein in the soaring costs of cancer treatment.

“This means that each drug now has specific individual claim limits and its eligibility for subsidies would depend on the reasons for prescribing it,” said Dr Jen Wei Ying, an associate consultant at the Department of Haematology-Oncology at the National University Cancer Institute, Singapore (NCIS).

“Subsidies will also be determined by the patient’s per capita household income, eligibility for other government schemes and residency status,” she said.

Additionally, as most cancer drugs are prescribed in combination, only a single claim can be made – and this would be the drug with the highest claim limit. This makes estimates of out-of-pocket expenses and financial counselling more complex for patients who are prescribed combinations of drugs with varying claim limits, she noted.

Costs that are incurred during cancer treatment, such as the cost of anti-nausea drugs, would from September have a separate reimbursement limit, she added.

Thus a team from NCIS and local artificial intelligence health technology start-up Bot MD came up with a cost calculator – known as ChemoCalc – to estimate a patient’s treatment cost and provide him with financial counselling.

Chief executive and co-founder of Bot MD Dorothea Koh said that various schemes – including the Cancer Drug List, drug subsidy schemes like the Medication Assistance Fund and the Standard Drugs List, as well as the Pioneer and Merdeka Generation schemes – have been integrated into the calculator.

All staff at NCIS will have access to the calculator via an app or a Web browser.

Doctors can use the calculator to get an idea of costs for patients and decide on treatment options and the next course of action, such as referring patients to medical social workers, said Dr Jen.

The calculator will be updated in tandem with national revisions and price revisions to ensure that the estimated costs align with the actual amounts patients are expected to pay, said Ms Koh.

ChemoCalc can also be adapted for use in other healthcare institutions.

The NCIS is looking to develop a version of the tool for patients, said Dr Jen.