How to choose an Integrated Shield Plan?

How to choose an Integrated Shield Plan?
PHOTO: The Straits Times

Life, as we know it, has a mortality rate of 100 per cent. And the probability of getting hospitalised for a critical or long-term illness is almost as high. The only thing we don't know is when and where tragedy will strike, and what the financial burden will be.

This is why it was important for me and my family to get additional health insurance coverage.

While all Singaporeans are covered by MediShield Life, which provides a baseline coverage targeted at Class B2/C wards in public hospitals, Integrated Shield Plans (IPs) give you additional coverage above and beyond, including coverage for Class A/B1 wards in public or private hospitals.

According to the MOH website, as of Jan 25, 2017, there are a total of 32 Integrated Shield Plans from 6 insurance providers: AIA, Aviva, AXA, Great Eastern, NTUC Income, and Prudential. The website also categorises the plans and allows you to do a side-by-side comparison of plans in the same category, or tier.

Each tier (there are five in total) represents the ward level in which the additional coverage is applicable.

How I looked for an IP

1. Flexibility and choice

Photo: Consultwho.sg

I wanted flexibility in case I needed to be hospitalised at a private non-subsidised facility. Therefore I only looked at "Private Hospital Plans" which immediately narrowed my search from 32 to six plans.

Why did I want private hospital coverage? You never know where or when you'll get a health emergency (that's why they're called emergencies) so if I happen to be near a private hospital at the time of my emergency, I can walk in and be warded. And because I have insurance, I reduce my chance of having a financial catastrophe as a result of my emergency.

I've heard stories from people who stay just minutes from a private hospital but who had to be taken to a public hospital because they used the SCDF emergency ambulances (SCDF ambulances will take you to public hospitals only) and didn't have a private hospital IP.

Another thing to consider is that some private specialists don't go to public hospitals; doctors can only go where they have hospital privileges. So if you want your knee surgery to be done by a specific private orthopedist, you will only be able to do it in the facility to which your orthopedist can operate.

2. A large pool and high credit rating

Insurance operates on the law of large numbers, which means that the more policyholders insurance companies have, the better their predictions are for estimating the value and frequency of future claims paid out to policyholders.

In other words, their risk of insolvency is lowered with a larger pool. Their credit ratings can also reflect this. The higher their credit rating (For S&P and ASEAN credit ratings, the more A's, the better), the lower the risk.

A large pool of policyholders and a higher credit rating may also mean that the insurance company has more efficient processes, which translates to lower operating costs and more value to policyholders.

But as far as the processing of claims, there is not much variance in the turnaround time for each insurer, as they are all between zero (same day) and one day. However, the ease of the claims process and the customer service will differ among the six insurers.

3. Cost and coverage

Photo: Consultwho.sg

When looking at a side-by-side comparison of plans, I like seeing the covered limits "as charged" instead of a stated dollar amount. I don't like the idea of keeping a running tab in my head of the hospital bill and how much coverage I have left.

Because each of the six Private Hospital IPs offer different coverage options, the premiums also differ, sometimes by very large amounts.

For example, for those age 60 to 65, the premium for a Private Hospital IP ranged from $1701 to $2270. Because Private Hospital IPs were already the highest tier plans, I leaned toward getting a less expensive plan premium.

Please note that these were some of the criteria I used, and that your situation will be different, which means you may require different coverage options. This article expresses my own personal choices, and is intended for informational purposes only. It is not meant to be comprehensive as I omitted deductibles, co-insurance, riders, etc.

Have a question about Integrated Shield Plans? Ask here.

Graphic: Consultwho.sg

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