Wait-and-see response to new B1 insurance plan

Most of those interviewed like being able to choose their doctor, but won't switch IPs yet

Most Singaporeans polled by The Straits Times liked that a new medical insurance plan announced by the Ministry of Health (MOH) on Tuesday would allow them to choose their doctor.

They also appreciated that the premiums are affordable.

While most of the 20 or so people interviewed by ST acknowledged the benefits, they said they would not switch to the new plan yet.

 
 

This new standard Integrated Shield Plan (IP) offers the private B1 class in public hospitals, a higher class than that provided by MediShield Life - a basic health insurance plan which covers all 3.9 million Singaporeans and permanent residents for life.

The new plan offers air-conditioned four-bed wards, instead of non-air-con wards with six beds or more in Class B2/C wards, and the option to choose one's doctor.

MOH had worked with five private insurers to develop the key features of this new standard IP.

Business owner Jessie Tan, 36, said she does not mind paying more to be able to choose the doctor. "Just like making any purchases, I want to get someone who is experienced and has been 'tried and tested', someone who has a high success rate if you're talking about surgery."

Mr Andrew Tan, 45, an engineer, said being able to choose a doctor was the most important benefit. "It is better to have the same doctor throughout so he would be familiar with my medical history," he said.

Mr Don Quek, 59, a director in a marine supply company, said: "The new plan is quite beneficial in general as I believe it makes higher-quality healthcare more affordable."

Most people ST spoke to said they would rather keep their existing private hospital IPs, with more coverage and benefits.

Ms Hannah Chua, 34, an executive, said: "I'm on a private shield plan so I'm likely to continue on this track unless the cost is prohibitive."

Housewife Chen Cui Si, 51, is also not planning to switch to the new plan. She said: "The plan is still new and it takes some time to understand the details of it."

While insurers providing this standard IP have promised not to raise premiums for two years, economists warned that premiums could skyrocket after two years.

Professor Phua Kai Hong, a healthcare economist from the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, said: "There's a big gap between B1 and B2. Once you get a choice of doctors, it also means you can choose your treatments."

He added: "Doctors may decide to use non-standard drugs. Next thing we know, higher premiums..."

Mr David McKeering, healthcare leader at consultancy firm PwC Singapore, said: "There are obvious concerns that IP premiums may rise over time, but this can be dealt with if consumers have the information to make informed decisions and there is flexibility in the system to make changes."

  • Additional reporting by Benjamin Tan
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 18, 2016, with the headline 'Wait-and-see response to new B1 insurance plan'. Print Edition | Subscribe