Incentivise people to stay healthy, take early action

Since its release, the 54-page report by the Health Insurance Task Force has generated much-needed debate ("Proposals to rein in health insurance costs unveiled"; Oct 14).

While tackling overcharging, overservicing and overconsumption is more urgent and necessary than ever, these are reactive measures that address only one part of the equation.

A core tenet of the Ministry of Health's Healthcare 2020 Masterplan is to move interventions upstream through strategies such as education, screening and encouraging healthy lifestyles.

Keeping our population healthy for as long as possible can prevent or delay the onset of chronic illnesses.

This translates into less consumption of downstream resources such as treatment, surgery and hospitalisation, which are not only more expensive, but which sometimes merely prolong the number of years that a person spends in poor health.

A good place to start could be premium discounts for maintaining a healthy lifestyle, regular screening, and getting recommended vaccinations that reduce hospitalisations (such as flu vaccinations).

Incentivising people to take action early after a disease diagnosis and compliance with prescribed treatment could also be considered.

Insurers should view these as investments in preserving health, not costs.

A good balance of calibrated upstream investments and downstream cost containment could pave the way for a more sustainable health insurance industry, as the prospect of millions of aged insured sick looms large.

Li Ze Zong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 25, 2016, with the headline 'Incentivise people to stay healthy, take early action'. Print Edition | Subscribe