The impact of higher MediShield premiums will be studied carefully to ensure that every Singaporean can afford them, said Health Minister Gan Kim Yong yesterday.
He offered assurances that the Government will help those such as the elderly who have little in savings cope with the scheme, which will be expanded to cover the entire lifespan of each citizen.
But one thing will not change - Singaporeans will continue paying part of the bill to maintain "discipline", he said, even as he seeks the public's views on this "very significant shift" in the national health insurance system.
In his National Day Rally speech on Sunday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced that MediShield, which people can currently opt out of, will be made compulsory for all.
It will no longer be limited to those below 90, and will cover a person's life from birth to death.
But the extended coverage under the scheme, which will be renamed MediShield Life, will mean higher premiums, PM Lee said.
Currently, those 20 and below pay as little as $50 in premiums every year. But rates climb to as high as $1,190 for an 86-year-old.
Speaking on the sidelines of a health-care congress at Marina Bay Sands, Mr Gan said keeping premiums affordable will be a key priority as his ministry finalises details on the expanded scheme.
It will also be important to hear what members of the public have to say on the kinds of hospital costs they want MediShield Life to cover.
A public consultation will be held "over the next few months", he added, without elaborating.
But everyone has a responsibility to keep healthy, make wise decisions on treatment, and save up for rainy days, he pointed out.
"At the end of the day, we want to re-emphasise, to re-affirm this collective responsibility for health care," Mr Gan said.
About 92 per cent of the resident population has MediShield, which helps with large hospital bills in Class B2 and C wards. The remainder who are not on the scheme include those who dropped out due to pre-existing illnesses or who cannot keep up with the premiums.
How to bring them back into the scheme will be another point to ponder, said Mr Gan.
Medical social worker Esther Lim said any process for this has to be simple.
"Essentially, there must be clarity in the how and where," said the head of medical social services at Singapore General Hospital.
Private insurers offering Integrated Shield plans - an upgrade that offers extra coverage - will also be roped into the conversation to see how their plans fit into the new scheme.
But the more immediate focus will be to pin down the basics of the insurance first, said Mr Gan.
Retired pilot Ho Weng Toh, 93, is looking forward to being covered by MediShield. He has several chronic ailments including diabetes and high blood pressure.
But he worries that the higher premiums will be passed on to the younger generation, and suggested that the cost could be met by other means, such as drawing on government reserves.
"I hope that the Government is not expecting old people to go back to their children and ask them for help," said Mr Ho, who has three children aged 54 to 63.
"They have their own commitments, their own lives."