Medishield Life review: Lower out of pocket payments for big bills

Cleaner Kamla Somu, 63, forked out about $2,000 from her Medisave account for four cycles of chemotherapy after she was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent surgery. After MediShield Life kicks in, someone in her shoes would end up paying aroun
Cleaner Kamla Somu, 63, forked out about $2,000 from her Medisave account for four cycles of chemotherapy after she was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent surgery. After MediShield Life kicks in, someone in her shoes would end up paying around $700 for the chemotherapy. -- ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

Out of pocket payments for major hospital bills could be cut by as much as half, following a review committee's recommendations for MediShield Life.

This includes treatment for common conditions such as cancer, stroke and heart attack, which often result in long stays and large bills.

At least nine out of 10 subsidised patients - those staying in B2- or C-class wards - will be fully insured, said MediShield Life review committee chairman Bobby Chin.

This means they will have to pay less than $3,000 in cash or money taken from their accounts in the national medical saving scheme Medisave, even though their bills may be substantially higher.

The committee's recommendations also mean that patients can make larger claims than before, and that insurance will pay for a larger share of the bill.

These changes, said Mr Chin, would be most effective at targeting large hospital bills where out-of-pocket payments are the chief concern.

"It's more critical to focus on enhancing protection for the large bills that cause Singaporeans to worry, which are most difficult for us to plan and save up for," he said.

The committee gave the example of a typical heart attack patient.

After 10 days in a B2 ward, his bill would come to $8,100. About four out of 100 bills of all subsidised patients fall in this range, the committee said.

With the existing MediShield claim structure, the patient would have to pay $4,655 - more than half the bill - out of pocket.

Under the new compulsory health insurance scheme, however, he would pay only $2,455.

The new claim limits also mean that those undergoing outpatient treatments for cancer, such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy, would pay substantially less.

Currently, six in 10 patients pay less than $1,000 in cash or through Medisave per treatment cycle.

Under MediShield Life, the proportion of such patients would increase to eight in 10.

These changes will make a difference to cleaner Kamla Somu, 63, should she need further cancer treatment.

Two years ago, when she was diagnosed with breast cancer, she went through four chemotherapy cycles, and had to fork out about $2,000 from her Medisave account. This was after she had pawned her jewellery to pay $5,000 for surgery.

After MediShield Life kicks in, someone in her shoes would end up paying around $700 for the chemotherapy.

And those who rack up large hospital bills of more than $10,000 will also receive additional help, the committee said.

Now, only one in 10 pay less than $3,000. This will go up to six in 10 people.

Dr Chia Shi-Lu, head of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Health, noted that the improved benefits mean that Singaporeans will have to pay less from their Medisave accounts.

This, together with increases in employer Medisave contributions, mean that people should have enough in their accounts, he noted.

Mr Alfred Chia, chief executive of financial advisory firm SingCapital, also welcomed the proposed changes.

"MediShield has too many limitations," he said.

"MediShield Life is definitely a marked improvement from our current system."

linettel@sph.com.sg