small change

Have a heart, support MediShield Life

Some may chafe at higher premiums, but taking care of the less fortunate is the right thing to do

In recent years, I have found myself visiting the hospital more and more frequently.

Often, it is to accompany my mum or my dad on their check-ups. But occasionally, it is to get specialised medical help myself.

Sometimes, I would spend an hour or so waiting for the blood test results and then seeing the doctor.

Usually, I would work on my columns while waiting, but over time, I have also made friends with some of the medical social workers who patrol the clinic corridors.

They remarked that my parents were fortunate to have me accompanying them to the hospital.

Occasionally, they would find elderly patients who turn up on their own for outpatient treatment only to encounter problems like not having enough money to foot the bills.

This is the so-called "pioneer generation" of Singaporeans - people in their 70s or older who, like my parents, have little savings in their Central Provident Fund (CPF) Medisave accounts to pay for their health care.

It makes me wonder how they might cope, if they are hospitalised.

Sure, the medical social workers work hard to help the needy patients they meet, but some will slip through the safety net and skip treatment because of the costs.

So, I applaud Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's proposal to introduce MediShield Life - the new compulsory health-care insurance scheme that will cover the entire lifespan of each citizen.

While 92 per cent of Singaporeans are covered under MediShield, many of the uninsured 8 per cent - the elderly and those with pre-existing illnesses - are in the higher-risk group who need the coverage more.

I also look forward to the details of the Pioneer Generation Package that will give a helping hand to the needy old folk whose Medisave savings may be inadequate to pay for their MediShield premiums.

As a financial writer, I have written articles urging readers to sign their parents up for MediShield, the government-run medical insurance scheme covering hospital stays for chronic illnesses, and whose premiums can be paid out of Medisave accounts.

But there is only so much a financial writer can do.

There will always be those who choose to opt out of MediShield when they retire or lose their jobs because they no longer have any CPF contributions, only to be hit with a painful bill when they are struck with a major illness.

Then there is the worry encountered by families who live in fear of the crippling medical bills they may face, as their loved ones turn 90 when MediShield coverage stops.

So for many of us in our 40s and 50s, taking care of both the aged parents and growing up children can be a big emotional and financial strain.

Even though looking after the elderly is often the duty of the family in our society, some may simply give up and leave their aged parents to fend for themselves.

Indeed, many of us have encountered woeful tales among our friends and relatives regarding their loved ones' medical bills.

For me, there was my 60-year-old taxi-driver cousin who had difficulties in paying his 81-year-old mum's hospitalisation bill when she died from a fall.

His takings were irregular, and his mum did not have any insurance coverage that he could fall back on when she passed away.

Thus, even if I have to pay a higher medical premium to provide universal coverage, I will gladly do it, knowing in my heart that it is the right thing to do, as it would give the less fortunate the peace of mind that they are also taken care of.

But as one of the 92 per cent of Singaporeans who pay up the medical insurance premiums promptly, I also empathise with those who are worried about the impact of the proposed MediShield Life on their Medisave accounts.

One question that surfaces is whether in being magnanimous, the higher premiums we pay will end up depleting our Medisave accounts so much that we may find ourselves short of funds to foot the out-of-pocket expenses on our own medical bills.

As it is, some self-employed individuals may have only a slender Medisave account to start with.

Then there is the question of whether it is wise to burden our younger generation with higher medical premiums at a time when they have to cope with higher housing costs and are trying to raise a family.

So even though the Health Ministry has yet to consult the public on MediShield Life and how the premiums will be worked out, there are some people who chafe at having to share the load in order to achieve universal coverage.

But surely opting out is not an option to consider.

These people only have to spend a day or two in the hospital to understand the plight of the medically uninsured.

For all their bravado, if they ever find themselves in a similar fix, they will realise all too late that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

engyeow@sph.com.sg