Parliament: Govt can check income, health status for MediShield Life

Medishield Life, which promises health insurance coverage for all later this year, gives the health minister wide-ranging powers to check the income and health status of all Singaporeans and permanent residents.

The legislation for implementing the scheme was introduced in Parliament yesterday by Health Minister Gan Kim Yong, and the powers it confers were spelt out for the first time.

These include the power to check a person's income with the taxman and his health status via medical records at hospitals. All this is without needing to get permission from the person being checked. But there is a clause allowing those who find the checks too intrusive to forbid them.

But they will not be eligible for income-related subsidies for their premiums, nor will they be automatically given a clean bill of health to avoid the 30 per cent penalty imposed for 10 years on those with pre-existing diseases.

The MediShield Life Scheme Bill also gives the minister the same powers as the taxman for recovering unpaid premiums - such as getting employers to deduct the sum from a worker's salary or getting banks to do so from the person's account.

The powers are meant to help in dealing with those who can pay the premiums but do not do so, thus increasing the load on other policyholders.

In the new scheme, the coverage amount will be higher, co-payment will be lower, and there will be no cap on the sum that a person can claim in his lifetime. As a result, premiums will be higher than those of the current MediShield scheme.

But the Government has pledged $4 billion in aid over five years to ensure the new scheme stays affordable. Also, two in three people will get permanent subsidies of 15 per cent to 50 per cent on their premiums. Those who still cannot afford the premiums will get additional help from the Government. For most people, the higher premiums can be covered fully by Medisave.

To simplify the procedure for identifying people with an existing serious illness, the administrator will have access to hospital records.

Other features of the Bill include penalties for defaulting, giving false data, or wrongfully disclosing data obtained under the authority of the scheme, as well as the setting up of a MediShield Life Council. The council will review the scheme periodically and recommend changes to ensure it continues to give effective protection to citizens.

Dr Chia Shi-Lu, head of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Health, said he supports having the implied consent to verify personal details, as there is provision to refuse access.

"There has been quite a lot of feedback from Singaporeans, particularly the elderly, who are unhappy with government agencies repeatedly requesting personal and financial information from them in order (for them) to qualify for schemes."

People ask why government agencies do not share information, Dr Chia said.

Now, it will be done for MediShield Life.


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