Responsibility lies with employer if maid's insurance cover is inadequate

The medical issues involving Indonesian domestic helper Ani Sumarni and her employer, Mr Saw, are sad and highlight the problems that occur when medical bills exceed the insurance coverage arranged (Insurance coverage for maids too low: Agents, NGOs, April 20).

HealthServe's letter proposed several potential solutions to such problems, and I agree that unless insurance companies provide unlimited medical expenses coverage, which they are unlikely to do, there will always be some cases that fall outside of the minimum insurance cover mandated by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), which is $15,000 per year.

MOM's assertion that insurance coverage is adequate in 96 per cent of cases provides reasonable assurance, if not a certainty, in assessing the likelihood of a maid being covered by a medical insurance policy.

The issue of medical claims was discussed in Parliament last year, and one suggestion was that employment agencies should be more proactive in highlighting this issue to prospective employers.

This could include offering insurance plans with higher coverage limits, which are readily available in Singapore.

However, some employers may decline this option, perhaps seeing it as a means to increase sales commission rather than an effort to raise awareness and provide greater protection for their maids.

More public education on the risks and improvements in how these policies are presented and sold in employment agencies may alleviate this misconception.

As HealthServe states, crowdfunding is not the solution to the problem, and the suggestion that the Government fund a scheme misses the point that governments do not fund schemes, taxpayers do.

Hence, any funding would need to consider whether it represents an appropriate use of taxpayer funds, bearing in mind the risk is one that should rest with the employer.

A similar argument could apply to non-governmental agencies that might consider paying for uninsured medical expenses.

Funding by using a proportion of premiums is also problematic, as insurance companies would have to levy this on all policyholders as an added charge to create a separate pool specifically for medical expenses above any uninsured amount.

It is, therefore, preferable to let individuals decide their level of insurance cover and associated risk.

If the cover purchased falls below the amount needed, the employers should accept responsibility for the shortfall.

Graham Spriggs (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 29, 2019, with the headline 'Responsibility lies with employer if maid's insurance cover is inadequate'. Print Edition | Subscribe