SINGAPOREANS can expect a higher proportion of their hospital bills to be paid by the revamped MediShield health insurance scheme.
Also, they can probably claim a bigger amount from the scheme, which Health Minister Gan Kim Yong hopes to roll out by 2015.
But one thing will remain unchanged: People still have to shell out a certain sum first, called the deductible, before the insurer picks up the remainder of the hospital bill.
Mr Gan painted these broad strokes yesterday when he sketched the direction of the new MediShield Life scheme, which will provide health insurance for all Singaporeans regardless of age, health and income.
But premiums will have to go up to pay for the changes, he said. Currently, people pay between $50 and $1,190 in premiums a year, depending on their age group.
The MediShield changes, prompted by people's growing concern about rising health costs, are aimed at giving Singaporeans greater peace of mind and fewer worries when faced with large medical bills.
But in extending such support, there is a need to strike a balance between enhanced benefits and the premium rates, said Mr Gan.
"One particularly important aspect is to encourage Singaporeans to take personal responsibility for their own health," he added, so that the country's health- care costs can be kept as low as possible.
The revamping of Medi- Shield, which provides cover for more than 92 per cent of Singaporeans currently, was announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the National Day Rally on Aug 18.
In the current system, policyholders in Class B2 and C wards pay a deductible of up to $2,000. Of the remaining amount, they will pay 10 to 20 per cent which is referred to as co-insurance.
In MediShield Life, this co-insurance amount is set to go below 10 per cent for very large hospital bills, which are typically those that exceed $5,000.
Higher claim limits are also on the cards as the purpose of MediShield Life is to pay for a bigger chunk of large bills. In the existing MediShield, there is a lifetime limit of $300,000.
The details of the new scheme will be fleshed out after a public consultation, to be held in the last quarter of this year.
It will gather feedback through dialogues, focus groups, webchats and online polls.
Official figures show that only a small proportion of hospitalised patients in subsidised wards chalk up a huge bill.
Of the 10 per cent hospitalised every year, fewer than 3 per cent of subsidised patients have bills of $10,000 or more.
One such case was Mr Yee Kwek Chin, 49, who racked up a $32,000 bill in April, after a blood vessel burst in his head.
He stayed in a Class B2 ward for two weeks, and after the subsidy, his bill was $11,000.
MediShield paid about $4,000 of the amount, with the rest coming from his Medisave.
Mr Yee, who is jobless, feels a 10 to 20 per cent rise in premium levels would be "reasonable". "We pay more, we get more. Also, the money can help other Singaporeans. There is no point in being too calculating," said the father of two whose annual premium is about $220.