ALTHOUGH the payouts from MediShield Life will be more than the current scheme, the proposed mandatory medical insurance will be both sustainable and affordable over the long term, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong assured the House yesterday.
"We do not plan to raise taxes for the purpose of paying for these MediShield subsidies."
Part of the reason it will be sustainable is that the premiums collected will be enough not just for the year's payouts but also "for long-term commitments such as continuing claims for dialysis and cancer treatments", he said.
Closing the debate on MediShield Life, which will give lifelong cover to all Singaporeans and permanent residents, Mr Gan said the current Budget has taken into account the subsidies to tide people over the higher premiums when the scheme starts at the end of next year.
Over two days of debate, 24 Members of Parliament raised various concerns, including how premiums are decided, the need for social responsibility or strong oversight to keep costs under control, as well as a call to better regulate the Integrated Shield Plans (IPs) offered by commercial insurers.
Mr Sitoh Yih Pin (Potong Pasir) said the average person is not seized by how much of the scheme is funded by the Government.
"The two biggest things on everyone's minds are how much will the premiums be in the long run, and how much will the payouts be when we need to use MediShield Life."
He also felt the scheme needs government control over what is covered.
Mr Gan agreed that hospitals "play a critical role in managing costs", and he promised to "develop and enforce strong clinical protocols to guide doctors on what is clinically appropriate".
Associate Professor Fatimah Lateef (Marine Parade GRC) and Workers' Party Non-Constituency MP Yee Jenn Jong suggested close monitoring of insurance claims and health-care consumption patterns.
Mr Gan replied: "We will need to curtail unfettered choice which does not translate into outcomes.
We must work together to keep a lid on health-care inflation."
To the MPs who stressed the need for people to play their part by staying healthy, Mr Gan said this should include going for health screening regularly and treating chronic ailments.
He also told MPs, who asked for regulation of IPs covering private medical care, that his ministry will look into the issue.
But he warned against overregulation, which could limit choice or increase premiums.
Mr Gan also took note of the MPs' call to explain the scheme clearly to people. Indeed, several Members of the House were themselves confused about the scheme.
One of them obviously failed to grasp the slogan "Better Protection. For All. For Life" when she asked why the Government is not "making all Singaporeans buy MediShield Life".
This article was first published on July 10, 2014. Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.