Singapore’s health care system holds valuable lessons for U.S.

2 min read

The United States could learn a thing or two from Singapore when it comes to providing quality health care at reasonable cost, according to biologist, entrepreneur, and author William Haseltine.

Intrigued by the fact that the Southeast Asian nation spends only 3% of its GDP on health care in contrast to the United States’ nearly 18%—yet has a healthier population—Haseltine, president and founder of the think tank ACCESS Health International, examined Singapore’s approach to health care in his 2013 book, Affordable Excellence: The Singapore Health Story.

He thinks that Singapore’s emphasis on “social harmony”—on ensuring that everything in society works well and smoothly—is a key factor in that nation’s health care achievements. “They believe that nobody in their country, even a foreigner, will go without health care,” Haseltine said during a January 15, 2014 talk at Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH), where he served as a professor from 1976-92. “If they have to put more money into it to help to help the vulnerable population and the very old population, they do it.”

Haseltine gave a Centennial Dean’s Distinguished Lecture Book Presentation to a standing-room-only audience in Kresge G-2. HSPH Dean Julio Frenk introduced Haseltine as “a Renaissance person”—an accomplished basic researcher in HIV/AIDS, cancer, and genomics; an innovator who founded several successful biotechnology companies; and a researcher of health systems.