MediShield Life debate: Bigger push for portable medical benefits

PHOTO: MediShield Life debate: Bigger push for portable medical benefits

SINGAPORE - A tripartite working group has been formed by the Singapore National Employers Federation, the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) and the Government to look into getting more employers to shift to portable medical benefits built on MediShield Life, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said yesterday.

The Government will also consider strengthening incentives to companies which are willing to provide such portable benefits to their workers, one of the recommendations by the MediShield Life review committee.

Mr Gan made these announcements in opening the parliamentary debate on the committee's report on MediShield Life.

In it, the review committee had called for employers and unions to work together to reduce the duplication of coverage between employer medical benefits and MediShield Life.

The minister noted these concerns as well as the worry that employees who rely on employers' benefits would lose such coverage when they stop working or retire.

He said MediShield Life provides an opportunity for stakeholders such as employers and unions to work together to better assure workers of lifetime medical coverage, not just for the duration of their employment.

While the 1 percentage point increase in employer Medisave contribution from next year will help, Mr Gan said more can be done to urge employers and employees to shift towards portable benefits built upon MediShield Life.

He said he is encouraged that the public service has taken the lead to raise its employer Medisave contribution to officers to help them pay for MediShield Life or Integrated Shield Plans.

"I hope more employers and unions will work together to do this for their workers," he said.

Yesterday, at least seven of the 13 MPs who rose to speak touched on the issue of portable benefits.

Most supported the need for these benefits to prevent duplication with MediShield Life, and had suggestions for how to get more employers on board, such as improving the messaging to companies and giving more financial help or tax exemptions.

While there are existing tax incentives for employers which switch to portable plans, the MediShield Life committee estimated that less than one in 20 employers offers such portable benefits.

Labour MP Zainal Sapari (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC) noted that NTUC has been calling for portable medical benefits for several years.

However, the annual and lifetime claim limits set by the old MediShield scheme meant that many preferred to tap on their employers' benefits to avoid eating into their MediShield claim limits.

That will be less of an issue now as MediShield Life will have no lifetime claim limits and higher annual claim limits, he said. Dr Chia Shi-Lu (Tanjong Pagar GRC), chair of the health government parliamentary committee, said companies could reimburse employees for taking up their own insurance plans or give additional Medisave contributions to help workers pay for premiums.

Non-Constituency MP Gerald Giam said companies can consider purchasing riders for their employees to cover the co-payment portion of medical bills so they will pay less out of their pockets.

Dr Lam Pin Min (Sengkang West) went a step further by asking if the Government should consider legislating portability, as the United States had done.

But Nominated MP Teo Siong Seng, chairman of the Singapore Business Federation, spoke up on behalf of businesses that prefer the flexibility to decide whether to adopt portable benefits.

Their own group medical benefits may be cheaper and also a way of attracting and retaining talent.

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