BUDGET DEBATE: MINISTRY OF HEALTH

Excluded from integrated plans? Benefits of MediShield Life assured

PEOPLE who are excluded from integrated shield plans (IPs) today will still get the basic benefits of MediShield Life, said Health Minister Gan Kim Yong.

He was responding to concerns by MPs yesterday on how the new national insurance scheme to cover all Singaporeans for life will affect IPs, which are offered by private insurers.

Nearly two-thirds of MediShield policyholders are on such plans, which made the news recently when the Health Ministry took two IP insurers to task for reducing dialysis payouts.

Yesterday, in his round-up speech on his ministry's budget, Mr Gan said IPs are different from MediShield as they provide options for better benefits "over and above" the national scheme's basic coverage.

However, the Government requires IP providers to guarantee renewals to protect policyholders.

"Once policyholders take up the plan, (IP providers) cannot drop them from coverage even if they develop illnesses and incur high claims subsequently," he said.

The chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Health, Dr Lam Pin Min, later asked whether the private IP providers are allowed to reject or exclude pre-existing conditions, given the universal coverage of MediShield Life.

Dr Lam (Sengkang West) said he had come across cases where IP underwriters excluded certain conditions even after doctors certified that these conditions had been treated and would not cause long-term problems.

Replying, Mr Gan said all Singaporeans will be covered when MediShield Life kicks in next year.

All IPs will then ride on top of the basic MediShield Life coverage.

"Even those who are excluded today under the IP plans will be covered under MediShield Life, but only for the basic benefits that Medishield Life will provide," he said.

Extra benefits given by IPs, like additional coverage and payouts for higher ward classes, "may still be subject to exclusion depending on the commercial terms that IP providers will work out".

Non-Constituency MP Gerald Giam then sought to clarify whether IPs can drop the coverage of specific illnesses when the plans are renewed, such as refusing to cover prostate cancer if the policyholder has a relapse in the future.

Mr Gan said: "If you're covered today by an IP and if you develop a new disease, the IP must continue to cover you.

"If you already have an exclusion, you will still be covered by MediShield Life."

The MediShield Life review committee and his ministry have received feedback on the affordability of IPs, said Mr Gan.

They will look into appropriate options for upgrading coverage beyond MediShield Life, he added.

However, he urged Singaporeans to plan wisely and purchase an appropriate plan "that is affordable not just when we are young but also in old age", as premiums for private plans rise significantly as they grow older.

"If we plan to seek treatment at public hospitals, a more expensive insurance plan covering the cost of care in private hospitals may not be necessary," he said.

Mr Gan also welcomed preliminary recommendations on MediShield Life by the review committee.

These include removing the lifetime claim limit and enhancing payouts by raising claim limits and lowering co-insurance.

andreao@sph.com.sg