The article was first published on Nov 1, 2015. It was edited on Nov 2. 2015.
Everyone will be able to afford their MediShield Life premiums, promised Health Minister Gan Kim Yong.
Those who still cannot pay after getting initial government subsidies can apply for additional ones, he said. And as a last resort, they can go to him and his ministry for help. "If all the other schemes are still not enough, write to the Minister for Health," Mr Gan said. "We will look at it, case by case.
"It is our policy to make sure that everyone can afford MediShield Life, and that it will always cover every Singaporean. That is the basis on which we designed MediShield Life."
He was speaking alongside newly appointed Minister of State for Health Chee Hong Tat yesterday at a dialogue with about 400 grassroots leaders to familiarise them with the compulsory insurance scheme.
From midnight yesterday, 3.9 million Singaporeans and permanent residents automatically came under the new scheme, which was first announced two years ago during Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's National Day Rally speech.
This number includes around 340,000 people who were not insured under the old MediShield.
Insurance coverage now lasts from birth to death, rather than stopping at age 92. Claim limits for hospital bills and certain outpatient treatments are higher, and the lifetime cap of $300,000 people can claim under MediShield has been lifted.
Mr Chee said the new MediShield Life is part of a larger government effort to ensure that the cost of healthcare at all levels - from GPs to polyclinics and hospitals - remains within reach for Singaporeans.
"I think all of us would agree that no matter what kind of schemes we put in to support people who fall sick, the better thing to do is to stay healthy," he said. "But people still do fall sick. How do we give Singaporeans the peace of mind that quality healthcare services will be accessible and affordable?"
Premiums will be higher under MediShield Life because of the expanded coverage. However, two out of three people will enjoy a permanent subsidy of between 15 per cent and 50 per cent on their premiums.
On top of that, anyone who has to pay premiums that are higher than their MediShield premiums will get 90 per cent of the difference covered by the transitional subsidy in the first year, meaning that they have to pay only 10 per cent of the difference.
This subsidy falls to 70 per cent in the second year, and subsequently to 40 per cent in the third and to 20 per cent in the fourth year, before being phased out.
As for the Pioneer Generation, or Singaporeans aged 65 or older last year, the Government will pay 40 per cent to 60 per cent of premiums.
At yesterday's dialogue session, many questions were raised on the affordability of the new scheme, especially for the lower-income group.
Grassroots leaders also asked for clarifications on private Integrated Shield Plans (IPs), which provide better coverage that builds on what MediShield - and now MediShield Life - cover. These plans are offered by AIA, Aviva, NTUC Income, Great Eastern and Prudential.
Premiums are often significantly higher for IPs, although people can pay them using Medisave up to a certain limit. Mr Gan said of the cap: "We cannot allow Medisave to be used for the full amount. The reason is because Medisave is primarily designed for subsidised care."