Cost a key issue at MediShield Life forum

IT IS not just lower-income earners who are worried about rising premiums under the proposed MediShield Life.

Even those who currently pay private insurers for enhanced health coverage are asking how the new national scheme will affect them.

This is what a committee, tasked with working out how to implement MediShield Life, learnt after its first feedback session with 54 members of the public last night at Ren Ci Community Hospital.

Committee chairman Bobby Chin revealed that citizens were generally supportive of the new national health plan, which will cover everyone for life, regardless of age or pre-existing conditions.

"I find this encouraging as it underscores a shared value of caring for the old and needy in our society," said Mr Chin, a former managing partner of accounting giant KPMG.

But besides worries about affordability, one issue highlighted is how the new scheme will impact the integrated plans (IPs), for which about 60 per cent of MediShield policyholders have signed up.

Provided by five insurers, these plans incorporate the basic MediShield and allow up to $1,400 in premiums a year to be paid through Medisave.

The enhanced coverage under these plans gives patients the option of choosing better wards, such as B1 and A-class in a public hospital, or seeking treatment at a private hospital.

At the upper end, premiums cost more than $8,000 a year.

Given that MediShield's transformation into MediShield Life in 2015 will affect the IPs, people are worried that the premiums for these will rise.

One person even asked if the committee can look into moderating any increase, said Mr Chin.

He promised: "As part of the review, the committee will be consulting insurers to explore how the IPs will evolve with the introduction of MediShield Life."

Many who attended yesterday's closed-door session voiced concerns over high premiums, especially when they get older.

Other questions raised so far include queries of whether people will still pay for premiums without significant out-of-pocket expenditure, and how these changes might affect Medisave accounts.

The 11-member committee, which has until May to come up with its proposal on how the new scheme should work, is taking all feedback seriously, added Mr Chin, who is on the Council of Presidential Advisers. It knows that it needs to find a balance between affordability and having more benefits, he said.

The committee, made up of senior people from the health- care and private sectors, has already received feedback from about 40 people through the MediShield Life website, letters and the Health Ministry's hotline, which shows "Singaporeans' interest".

The next public forum will be on Dec 7. Anyone can attend it by signing up at the MediShield website, www.medishieldlife.sg

The committee will meet academics the following day.

salma@sph.com.sg

www.facebook.com/ST.Salma