NINE in 10 subsidised patients will have their bills fully insured by MediShield Life, under new recommendations that the Government supports.
This outcome follows the higher claim limits and lower co-payments being proposed by a review committee, a change that will see the vast majority of these patientspaying less than $3,000 a year for their big hospital bills.
Even among those whose various bills add up to $10,000 or more a year, 55 per cent will pay less than $3,000 a year out of their Medisave or in cash, said Mr Bobby Chin, chairman of the MediShield Life Review Committee.
But with these changes, it is necessary for premiums to go up, he said yesterday when giving an update on the committee's work.
The premium amounts are still being finalised and will be released later this month.
But the committee recommended that whatever the premiums may eventually be, they should be affordable and continue to be fully payable within Medisave withdrawal limits and contributions. It also asked the Ministry of Health to analyse the impact of the indicative new premiums on lower- and middle-income households.
Here, it noted that the new premiums will remain within Medisave contributions, with no additional cash outlay needed. Most people will also be able to cover the rise in premiums with the additional 1 percentage-point employer Medisave contribution they will receive from next year.
Responding to the panel, the Government said it was supportive of the changes proposed and will bear most of the cost of bringing into MediShield Life those with pre-existing conditions.
To help Singaporeans with the premium increases, the Government said it will provide permanent premium subsidies to help up to two in three Singaporean households. The pledge means a household with per capita family income of up to $2,600 a month can expect the subsidy.
Those who are 65 years and older will get some subsidy for their premiums, regardless of their income levels, while people aged 80 and older will have their premiums entirely covered by subsidies and Medisave top-ups.
And everyone under age 80 when MediShield Life takes effect at the end of next year, regardless of income, will also get four years of "transient subsidies" to offset the hike in premiums.
Mr Chin, former managing partner of accounting giant KPMG, said people should not worry about how high premiums will rise, but focus on whether they will remain affordable.
He added that the panel's work has been "intensive, challenging, but certainly meaningful".
Formed in November last year, the committee held 30 meetings before reaching a consensus that struck a balance between higher premiums and affordability on one side, and sufficient cover for everyone for life on the other.
The most intensive discussions were on the trade-offs, Mr Chin said, explaining why some things people had asked for could not be included. Among them are lower premiums for those who stay healthy, and lower deductibles.
The more that is given, the higher the premiums. When this was told to people during the discussions, most preferred to be protected against large bills.
The committee therefore left the deductible intact - at between $1,500 and $3,000 - but reduced the co-payment from the current 10 per cent to 20 per cent, to 3 per cent to 10 per cent.
Explaining why the improved coverage will not fully cover the top 10 per cent of subsidised bills, Dr Tan See Leng, group chief executive officer of Parkway Pantai Group, who chaired the subcommittee on benefits, said these bills could be so large that including them would mean premiums have to go up "exponentially".
Still, they will get more insurance help than today, he added.
Dr Chia Shi-Lu, head of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Health, praised the committee for its "quite generous" recommendations. He said: "The better co-insurance terms mean less out-of-pocket payment for Singaporeans."