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Kash Cheong
Saturday, Jun 7, 2014

Singapore

Plans get thumbs-up for easing worries about medical bills

The Straits Times | Kash Cheong | Saturday, Jun 7, 2014

POLITICIANS, health experts and financial planners voiced support for the proposed MediShield Life scheme yesterday, saying it will ease Singaporeans' worries about large health-care bills.

Many said they particularly liked the proposal to do away with the lifetime claim limit of $300,000.

"The removal of the lifetime claim limit would really benefit those who are getting sicker at a younger age," said Madam Halimah Yacob, chair of the PAP Seniors' Group Committee. She called it a "timely measure" given that people are living longer.

Dr Paul Tambyah, president of the Society of Infectious Diseases, agreed. "This will benefit individuals who have severe congenital chronic diseases... who need thousands of dollars worth of treatment every month," he said.

Dr Chia Shi-Lu, chair of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Health, liked the scheme's inclusion of people with pre-existing illnesses who previously could not be insured or had to pay huge premiums.

Under the proposals, people with pre-existing conditions will have to pay premiums of an additional 30 per cent for 10 years to reflect their higher risks.

Said Dr Chia: "The increase seems fair, considering that these patients would normally otherwise be uninsurable."

The Government, he noted, will bear most of the cost of insuring them without "passing on the burden to the rest of the pool". The new scheme would result in "peace of mind for patients and less out-of-pocket expenses", he added.

Financial planners hailed the MediShield Life for decreasing the financial burden of hospital bills on Singaporeans, especially since it will not result in an unaffordable increase in premiums.

But financial advisory firm SingCapital's chief Alfred Chia noted the scheme is still new and further changes could be in the offing. "Going forward, we need to monitor how many people claim and see how premiums will further be adjusted," he said.

Health economist Phua Kai Hong suggested more regulatory mechanisms on health-care providers to ensure higher claims ceilings are not abused.

"We have to take care that money does not go down the drain on treatments that we do not need," he said.

Madam Halimah urged the Government to consider a tiered withdrawal scheme for Medisave.

She suggested that older Singaporeans, depending on their age, be allowed to withdraw more funds for outpatient treatment than their younger counterparts.

Currently, the limits on withdrawals are the same for all ages.

"Some seniors said that they wanted greater flexibility for more claims as they were earning very little and a lot of money was tied up in their Medisave," she said.

Dr Tambyah wondered if the deductible amount that patients have to bear - the first $1,500 to $3,000 of hospital bills accumulated within a year - could be reduced further.

"The deductible should be cut to reduce the burden of the older generation, some of whom may have many smaller bills, which are nonetheless significant to them," he said.

In a statement, the Workers' Party said it welcomed the MediShield Life Review Committee's recommendations, but added that "many" of the proposals were articulated by the party's members in Parliament as well as by many Singaporeans over the years.

They include adjusting co-payments and claim limits to ease health-care costs, and permanent premium subsidies for vulnerable groups. "We will further study the details of the committee's recommendations and respond when Parliament debates these changes," said the party.

kashc@sph.com.sg

This article was first published in The Straits Times on June 7, 2014.

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