HEALTH-CARE financing is a subject many Singaporeans know little about, which is why Dr Amy Khor has a plan to explain how MediShield Life will work for them and put "a human face to the message".
The Senior Minister of State for Health was responding to calls from many MPs to step up communication on the new universal health-care insurance scheme.
She promised that the outreach will go beyond merely explaining the technical nuts and bolts of the system, which may be difficult and off-putting for some.
It will also clarify misconceptions, give assurances and put "a human face to the message" so people know help is at hand if they need it, said Dr Khor, who stressed several times that people need not worry about whether they can afford premiums.
She said that when the MediShield Life review committee consulted the public, "what was very clear... was that many Singaporeans only have a very rudimentary understanding of the health-care financing system".
She singled out three areas that will need extra attention in the outreach exercise.
One, enhancing awareness of how Integrated Shield Plans (IPs) work. About 60 per cent of Singaporeans have these plans.
Dr Khor said not many people know that everyone who has an IP is already on MediShield, or MediShield Life when it is launched.
She compared MediShield to the base of a cake. IPs, provided by private insurers, are the "icing on top" that offer enhanced benefits like better ward classes.
Singaporeans may not be aware that while the premiums for MediShield and IPs are fairly similar when the policyholder is young, they will rise significantly with age, said Dr Khor.
"Many realise this only when they are in their silver years, when premiums rise sharply and the Medisave withdrawal limit becomes insufficient, making it necessary to top up their premium payments with cash," she said.
The Government will help IP policyholders understand how their plans work with MediShield Life so that they can make informed decisions. For instance, they might want to consider whether the wider base of MediShield Life's improved benefits is sufficient for their needs, or whether they still need IPs, said Dr Khor.
It will also work with private insurers to ensure that they market their products responsibly.
The second area she identified involved portable medical benefits that ride on MediShield Life.
She pledged that the Government will work with employers and union leaders to help them better understand how MediShield Life and IPs interact with employer medical benefits.
A tripartite working group, involving the Government, the Singapore National Employers Federation and the National Trades Union Congress, will look into the issue of portable medical benefits.
The Government will consider strengthening incentives for companies willing to offer portable benefits, such as through additional employer Medisave contributions or paying for employees' MediShield Life premiums.
The third area is how MediShield Life will tie in with the Pioneer Generation Package.
About 110,000 pioneers who are currently uninsured will now be covered by MediShield Life.
Existing coverage exclusions will be removed, though pioneers with pre-existing conditions may need to pay loading on their premiums.
But Dr Khor stressed that the most important message for all pioneers is: they will pay less than what they pay for MediShield today, for better protection.
Those aged 80 and above this year will have their MediShield Life premiums fully covered.
Dr Khor, who co-chairs a pioneer generation taskforce with Senior Minister of State Josephine Teo, said the Government would learn from its efforts and experiments in communicating the Pioneer Generation Package.
She highlighted the importance of face-to-face contact to give a personal touch to the outreach.
The Government will thus tap grassroots leaders, community organisations and self-help groups.
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