SINGAPORE residents whose pre-existing illnesses are not covered by MediShield will be fully insured once MediShield Life kicks in, assured Health Minister Gan Kim Yong yesterday.
But it will take a year or more for the new scheme to take off, he explained at the sidelines of a post-National Day Rally (NDR) dialogue yesterday at the Health Promotion Board.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had announced in his NDR speech that MediShield Life will cover all residents for life. Currently, 8 per cent of residents are not covered by MediShield.
But MediShield also currently does not allow policyholders to claim for certain conditions they were already suffering from or had a high risk of when they first signed up. These include heart disease, cancer and organ failure.
With claims from this group expected to increase with the launch of MediShield Life, it will take time for the Health Ministry to formulate the new scheme.
"We are going through the records to get a sense of the size of those with exclusions today," said Mr Gan, who again promised that the Government will "play a larger role" in ensuring that premiums remain affordable for all.
At the dialogue, a participant asked about the rationale for not covering her brother's mental illness which requires long-term hospital care.
Mental and congenital illnesses were previously excluded under MediShield. This was changed in March, but only for those whose condition was diagnosed after the change came into effect.
The woman's brother has been a long-time MediShield policyholder and did not have the mental condition when he joined, she said. His hospital bills over the past two years had almost depleted his Medisave account, as insurance does not cover any of them.
Replying, Mr Gan assured her that once MediShield Life started, it would help pick up his large hospital bills. He also said that if her brother needed help in the meantime, the ministry would look into the case.
The minister added that MediShield Life will take care of people with congenital illnesses, regardless of whether they are currently signed up with MediShield.
About 800 babies are born yearly with a serious congenital defect, such as a malformed heart, intestines and nervous system.
The high cost of health care was a key worry expressed at yesterday's dialogue.
Several participants bemoaned the price of medicine, while others wanted Medisave freed up for more uses "since it's our money".
Mr Gan explained that people need enough in their Medisave to last through their lifetime, since it will also pay for MediShield premiums in their old age.
"We need to balance how much can be used, but we also don't want to oversave," he said.
In her opening address, the chairman of the government feedback unit Reach, Dr Amy Khor, said health issues had received the most feedback following PM Lee's NDR speech, during which he had announced several policy changes.
The Senior Minister of State for Health and Manpower added that feedback on education came next, followed by housing.
Nine in 10 people approved of expanding the Community Health Assist Scheme to provide subsidised care at private general practice and dental clinics for about half of all Singaporeans.
MediShield Life, meanwhile, received support from 86 per cent of people.