Unequal premiums another discriminatory barrier for women

The published estimated annual premiums for CareShield Life show that women will be paying about 23 per cent more than men. This has sparked an online petition for both genders to pay equal premiums for the scheme (Over 1,600 sign online petition calling for equal CareShield Life premiums, July 14; A good scheme, but a few puzzling questions remain, May 28 ).

The Government has said that women, by virtue of their longer lifespan, will have more years of disability and can be expected to incur more healthcare costs. It said that gender-differentiated payment is actuarially fair and will make national health insurance more sustainable.

That argument sounds reasonable: Someone will have to bear the healthcare costs and it is a standard insurance practice to ask for a higher premium from those most likely to make claims on their policy.

But what has not been proven is that gender is the foremost predictor of poor health, with greater adverse impact than, say, drinking, smoking or overeating. Such poor lifestyle choices are detrimental to healthy ageing. Yet the people who adopt them are not likewise asked to pay a premium for their risky behaviour.

As women generally earn less than men and have less savings, the Government has said that close family members can use their Medisave or top up their Medisave accounts to help their female family members bear the cost of their higher premiums.

In so far as more men than women are waged workers and, therefore, better able to sustain the payment of insurance premiums, we can surmise that, frequently, the men of the family will be helping the women to pay the premiums.

Thus, a gender-differentiated payment policy that is presented as fairer and at a lower cost for men may, in actuality, make it worse for their pockets.

Ultimately, higher premiums make financially vulnerable women even more dependent on the help of others.

I will not be personally affected by CareShield Life but, as a woman, I do not want more help to deal with more discriminatory barriers - I just need fewer barriers put up.

Doris Low Lai Fun (Ms)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 16, 2018, with the headline 'Unequal premiums another discriminatory barrier for women'. Print Edition | Subscribe