NTUC proposes changes to MediShield Life scheme

THE labour union has proposed a slew of changes it would like to see to the new compulsory MediShield Life insurance scheme to make health care "affordable and accessible to all".

The national insurance scheme, which will cover everyone for life, is expected to start by the end of next year.

The National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) wants it to remove the higher deductibles that people over the age of 80 currently pay, so they will be on a par with everyone else.

Over-80s going for day surgery presently have to pay the first $3,000 of the bill before insurance kicks in. Younger patients pay only the first $1,500.

NTUC assistant secretary-general Cham Hui Fong said older people feel discriminated against because they are already paying the highest amount in premiums.

More than 300 union members, who took part in eight focus group discussions from the end of last year, also called for more drugs to be subsidised and for patients to pay a smaller share of big bills.

The NTUC has passed on recommendations to the MediShield Life Review committee, which has already suggested halving the co-payment, so patients will need to pay only 10 per cent of the claimable amount for small bills and 5 per cent when claims exceed $5,000.

However, the NTUC would like the patient's share to go down even further - to 3 per cent for claims exceeding $10,000, which account for less than one in 20 bills.

It would also like the Government to at least double the current 2 per cent tax rebate given to companies that practise portable medical insurance. These companies give employees an extra 1 per cent of their salary to go towards their Medisave accounts, helping them buy their own health insurance - so they remain covered, even if they change jobs or retire.

However, Ms Cham said the uptake for this is extremely low right now - though giving a higher tax rebate might encourage more companies to take it up.

NTUC members also want MediShield Life to cover more chronic ailments such as asthma and diabetes. Currently, it covers only cancer, kidney failure and organ transplant.

Ms Cham said many NTUC members have also complained about finding medication unaffordable. She noted that more than 1,000 new drugs are registered here, but only a dozen a year get subsidised.

She also hopes that pensioners with health coverage are not left disadvantaged under MediShield Life.

NTUC president Diana Chia is on the review committee tasked with recommending the shape of the scheme. She said the union submitted its recommendations to the committee last week.

The Ministry of Health said yesterday that it appreciates NTUC's outreach efforts but added: "Every benefit enhancement under MediShield will have an impact on premiums."

Ms Cham agreed that while members wanted more benefits, they were reluctant to say how much more they were willing to pay.

Ms Chia added that the general feeling among members was that they are comfortable if Medisave can pay for premiums, but not if they need to top up in cash.

salma@sph.com.sg