SINGAPORE - The Ministry of Health (MOH) has welcomed the latest measures by private insurers to adjust the terms for those on existing Integrated Shield Plans (IP) with riders that cover hospital bills in full.
NTUC Income has begun informing policyholders on such plans that they will soon have to co-pay part of their bills when their policies are renewed. Four other insurers having IPs with such riders say they are moving policyholders to co-payment riders, or considering doing so.
MOH said on Thursday (Feb 11) that these changes, together with other efforts by the Government such as the publication of fee benchmarks, "will further encourage prudent use of healthcare services, and keep healthcare costs sustainable for all Singaporeans".
"IP policyholders can continue to tap on their MediSave to pay for their co-payment amounts under all riders, subject to the MediSave withdrawal limits," the ministry told The Straits Times.
MOH also said that it had been kept informed by the individual private insurers on their independent reviews of existing IP riders, which were purchased before March 8, 2018.
"We welcome and are supportive of the changes that have been announced, as they support MOH's overall healthcare cost management efforts."
NTUC Income had, from Feb 3, started informing around 160,000 policyholders of IPs with riders covering hospital bills in full that their plans will have a new co-payment feature for renewals from April 1.
They will have to pay at least 5 per cent of the hospital bill, capped at $3,000 a year, subject to conditions such as prior approval from NTUC Income for the procedure. Otherwise, the cap does not apply.
However, their premiums will be reduced by up to about 50 per cent, depending on the policy and the policyholder's age, the insurer added.
And those with serious medical conditions will start co-payment only from next year.
NTUC Income's switch comes after the average premiums of its Plus Rider increased between 14 per cent and 41 per cent from 2018 to last year.
Meanwhile, Aviva Singapore said its 100,000 customers who are on existing full-coverage riders will have to co-pay part of their bills from April. However, they will see a reduction in their premiums on the next renewal if they are within the same premium age bands.
Prudential Singapore says slightly over 10 per cent of its customers on full riders will move to co-payment riders upon policy renewals, from April. Its head of product management Stanley Ng said the insurer will keep an eye on medical inflation and find ways to ensure healthcare remains accessible to the community.
In its reply on Thursday, MOH reiterated why it backs the shift away from full riders.
It noted that in past years, there have been concerns over rising healthcare costs and the impact of these on the sustainability and affordability of health insurance premiums.
"In particular, full riders that cover the entire co-payment required under IPs have contributed to the over-consumption, over-servicing and over-charging by doctors and policyholders which in turn impacts healthcare costs," the ministry added.
"This is why MOH had worked with insurers to introduce a minimum 5 per cent co-payment for new IP riders sold from April 1, 2019."
Those who had bought IP riders between March 8, 2018 and April 1, 2019 will also need to transition to the new IP riders from April 1 this year.
MOH said this was an important move to preserve the principle of co-payment in Singapore's healthcare financing system.
It also explained why it did not mandate the 5 per cent co-payment for existing rider policies purchased before March 8, 2018.
"We recognised that these were commercial contracts between insurers and their policyholders," it said.
"However, we welcome the latest changes by private insurers."
Added the ministry: "We also urge all stakeholders, including patients and medical practitioners, to continue to exercise responsibility when choosing and recommending appropriate and necessary care."