SINGAPORE - Published on 29 June 2014 12:05:52
Last December, I spent a Saturday afternoon closeted in a room with about 30 other Singaporeans talking about a subject very close to our hearts and wallets: health-care cost.
In particular, the review of MediShield Life, the improved national health insurance plan that offers coverage to all, including those with pre-existing medical conditions, and for life.
I cover such discussions on public issues all the time as a journalist. But this time, I signed up as a citizen because I wanted to give views on a specific area: allowing people with pre-existing medical conditions to be covered under higher ward class plans.
The proposed new MediShield Life offers universal coverage - but for B2 and C class wards only.
Those of us with pre-existing medical conditions cannot buy insurance cover for B1 or A class wards, since insurers have every right to reject us.
As it turned out, I didn't even have to raise the topic in my small-group discussion.
A woman in my group brought it up. I've since learnt that it was actually a common concern among the 1,200 participants in focus groups who gave views to the committee.
One group concerned about this are those already on private Integrated Shield Plans (IPs). They say insurers are jacking up premiums as they get older (some premiums doubled last year) and they feel at the mercy of these commercial providers.
If they can't afford the premiums, they end up back on basic MediShield Life, and will have to go to Class B2 and C wards: no air-conditioning, no choice of doctor, and access to a more restricted and cheaper range of drugs and treatment options.
Their call: Could the Government step in to offer a MediShield Life option that lets people get treatment at B1 wards? Premiums can be higher than for B2 or C class wards, of course.
For this group, the concern is over-insurance. About 60 per cent of Singaporeans buy IPs. But many don't utilise their benefits fully. Of those with plans meant for A class wards in public hospitals, seven in 10 chose to stay in lower ward classes when hospitalised. For those with plans meant for private hospitals, six in 10 chose lower class wards.
In other words, many people are paying premiums for benefits they don't need or want. Many told the committee they would like to downgrade to B1 coverage but aren't sure how this would affect their benefits. Health Ministry data also shows that premiums for B1 plans have seen sharp hikes from 2008 to 2013.