Singaporeans or permanent residents who refuse to pay MediShield Life premiums once the universal health insurance is launched later this year could find themselves behind bars if they try to leave the country.
The premiums will be compulsory - not just for people living here but also those who are living overseas for long periods - under proposals introduced in Parliament on Monday by Health Minister Gan Kim Yong.
Singaporeans and PRs living overseas will be entitled to coverage should they fall sick in the future and decide to return here for treatment.
The Bill also gives the insurance administrator the power to have money from a defaulter's wages and bank accounts diverted to pay the premiums.
The maximum penalty for defaulters who try to flee the country, spelt out in the MediShield Life Scheme Bill, is a fine of up to $5,000 and imprisonment of up to a year, or both.
The person would be allowed to leave the country on payment of the outstanding premium to an immigration officer or the police.
But he might also have to pay a 17 per cent penalty for late payment, as well as any costs incurred in recovering the money.
The planned tough stance is to cover the shortfall caused by people who can afford to pay their premiums but refuse, resulting in a heavier burden on other policyholders. The MediShield Life scheme provides everyone with protection against huge subsidised hospital bills for all their life, and reflects a caring society where everyone pulls together to help those in need.
But such penalties would not apply to people who have difficulty paying the annual premiums, which range from $130 for the young to $1,530 for people older than 90. Most people will not have a problem paying the premiums as they can be deducted in full from their Medisave funds.
People from families with a per capita income of $2,600 or less - that is, a total income of $13,000 a month for a family of five - will also receive subsidies. The lower the family income, the higher the subsidies - which range from 15 per cent to 50 per cent.
Pioneer Generation residents who were aged 80 or older last year will have their premiums covered fully by subsidies and Medisave top-ups.
Younger pioneers - those 65 and older last year who have been citizens since 1986 - regardless of their incomes, will also get heavy subsidies and top-ups that should cover more than half the cost of their premiums.
People who still have difficulty paying their premiums on top of these discounts can apply for additional help from the Government.
The Ministry of Health has stressed that penalties are intended only for those with the means but are recalcitrant about paying their premiums.
The MediShield Life Scheme Bill will be debated at the next sitting of Parliament.
The scheme is due to launch by the end of the year.
This article was first published on January 21, 2015.
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