NTUC to renew push for portable medical plans

PHOTO: NTUC to renew push for portable medical plans

SINGAPORE - With MediShield Life benefits now greatly enhanced, companies should seriously consider taking the money they budgeted for group insurance premiums and give it instead to workers individually, the labour movement suggested on Friday.

This could take the form of both Central Provident Fund contributions, which will enable their staff to pay for MediShield Life premiums, and cash, to allow them to upgrade to privately run Integrated Shield plans that offer even higher insurance coverage and hospital stays in higher ward classes.

"This avoids duplication and even wastefulness," said labour chief Lim Swee Say, speaking on the sidelines of a union event on June 6. The other advantage is that workers will still get to enjoy insurance coverage even after they quit, he added.

This type of arrangement is known as a portable medical benefits plan, and Mr Lim said the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) will be making a renewed push to promote it.

But the NTUC secretary-general also acknowledged that while the idea is attractive, the lack of monetary incentives to make firms implement it is an obstacle.

"It will not help firms save money, but neither will it add to their costs," he said.

MediShield Life is the new national health insurance scheme to be rolled out next year. It will cover all Singaporeans for life, including those with pre-existing health conditions that previously could not be insured.

A high-level review committee recommended on Thursday that the scheme's benefits also be enhanced to further reduce the size of big medical bills, especially for serious illnesses like cancer. The Government has said it supports the proposals, and will roll out subsidies to help the public pay for the higher insurance premiums.

The NTUC first mooted the idea of portable benefit plans as early as 2000, but it has not had much success in coaxing companies to adopt them.

Only 17 out of 1,400 unionised companies in the private sector provide portable medical plans for their staff. Mr Lim suggested that some form of tax incentive may help to get more firms to sign up.

The civil service, Singapore's largest employer with 80,000 staff, introduced a form of portable medical plan in 1994.

Recruits after April 1994 get an extra 1 per cent of their monthly salary paid into their Medisave account, which they can use to buy private hospitalisation plans. Eight in 10 civil servants are now covered under the scheme.

Checks with insurers found a handful of portable medical insurance plans based on MediShield.

NTUC Income introduced such a plan in 2006, but would not say how many companies or workers have adopted it. Its chief executive Ken Ng said the insurer will review its products after the Government accepts the MediShield Life recommendations.

Meanwhile, employers said that while they generally welcome the idea of giving staff portable medical insurance, much depends on how it is implemented.

Home-Fix managing director Low Cheong Kee said: "We are open to the idea, but it depends on costs and whether employees are able to use the money for their own medical needs."

The company already provides its staff with paid medical leave, hospitalisation and life insurance coverage.


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