Cost of ageing population Singaporeans' top worry: Poll

 An elderly couple at the Choa Chu Kang Polyclinic. The No. 1 worry of Singaporeans is the cost linked to the growing pool of old folk, according to a global survey. -- ST FILE PHOTO: JOSEPH NAIR
 An elderly couple at the Choa Chu Kang Polyclinic. The No. 1 worry of Singaporeans is the cost linked to the growing pool of old folk, according to a global survey. -- ST FILE PHOTO: JOSEPH NAIR

It eclipses fears of economy doing badly, climate change, terrorism

The No. 1 worry of Singaporeans is the cost linked to the growing pool of old folk, according to a global survey.

It eclipses even such risks as the economy not doing well, terrorism and climate change.

Half of 1,000 Singaporeans surveyed have picked ageing population cost as the biggest risk confronting the country. The extent of their anxiety on this front is the most pronounced in Asia, reports the Gallup survey commissioned by global insurer Swiss Re.

Done earlier this year, it covered 19 economies around the world, seven of which were Asian.

The findings were unveiled by Swiss Re yesterday at a press conference that also highlighted the need for insurers to rethink their role. They need to take on a more socially motivated role in partnering the public sector and promoting wellness. It is a mindset change especially pertinent to Singapore, where the overriding focus of health insurance is on hospital stay, the speakers said.

In fact, the anxiety felt by Singaporeans is greater than even Japan, which is also battling the silver tsunami.

The Japanese, too, see the cost of a greying population as the top risk but the proportion is lower, at 45 per cent.

The Singaporeans' view of their top risk stands in stark contrast to that of many developed economies.

In Hong Kong, it is the fear of pandemics while in South Korea, the United States and Britain, it is the economy faltering.

Singapore is projected to have one in five people aged 65 or older by 2030. As the country greys, a critical quotient is the gap between the cost of meeting people's needs in health care and what is available to cover these costs, said Ms Marianne Gilchrist, Swiss Re's head of health solutions, Asia.

Called the "health protection gap", a separate Swiss Re study found that if health-care expenditure remains at the same proportion of the gross domestic product as in 2010, the gap in Singapore will grow from US$100 million (S$124 million) to US$600 million by 2020. While not as high as other countries', it is still a "substantial" amount which will strain public and individual finances, Ms Gilchrist said.

The need for the various health-care players to team up to bridge the gap cannot be overemphasised, she added.

How to do it was a topic discussed at a Swiss Re closed-door symposium on Monday, attended by regional life insurers, academics and government officials.

Popular solutions raised by the 50 participants include the Government focusing on early intervention and promoting healthy living, and implementing policies that "nudge" people to change their behaviour.

There should also be stronger partnerships between the public sector and insurers, and better coordination of care.

Geriatrician Carol Tan-Goh, who spoke at the symposium, said insurers need to go beyond their traditional strategies of raising premiums, capping payouts and excluding pre-existing conditions. They could learn from other countries and introduce screenings, immunisations and other measures to promote wellness and healthy lifestyles, she added.

andreao@sph.com.sg