IN THE strongest assurance yet that MediShield Life insurance will be affordable, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong announced "permanent subsidies" for both low- and middle-income Singaporeans to help them pay the premiums.
The pioneer generation who are 65 years and older will have hefty 40-60 per cent subsidies.
There will also be transitional premium subsidies for everyone, regardless of income. This is part of the Government's decision "to support most of the initial costs of universal coverage", he said.
As a result, the Government's direct spending on health care is projected to increase to $7.5 billion in the coming financial year - almost double the $4 billion it spent just three years ago.
That goes up to $8 billion if Medisave top-ups are included.
As promised, the Government will take on a larger share of national health-care expenditure, from 33 per cent in FY2012 to 40per cent or more.
Premiums for MediShield Life are expected to be substantially higher than current MediShield premiums, causing people to worry that it could wipe out their Medisave funds.
Mr Gan told Parliament yesterday that with the top-ups and subsidies, most people will not use more than half their annual Medisave contributions for premiums.
He said that for a typical low- to medium-income household with working age parents and two children, "we aim to keep their net premiums to the current level or lower, after taking into account the permanent government subsidies, additional Medisave contributions and top-ups".
Similarly, Singaporeans aged 55 to 64 whose income is at or below the median will see no premium increase. Again, this is after taking into account higher Medisave contributions and various top-ups.
If, in spite of all the government help, there are still people who cannot afford the premiums, Medifund will step in.
But help has to go to those who need it, said Mr Gan. "Those who have the means should still pay their own share. In this way, we look after one another."
The minister also gave an update of Healthcare 2020. Singapore is on track in its goal to build more hospitals, nursing homes and day-care centres that will add 11,000 more beds, he said.
But while this remains important, the Health Ministry will shift its focus this year to providing more and better home-care services, so that more seniors can continue to live at home, rather than be institutionalised.
The help will be comprehensive, with medical, personal and rehabilitation care. The Health Ministry will fund or subsidise these services. By 2020, up to 10,000 people can get home medical and nursing care and 7,500, home personal care.
Caregivers will also be taken care of, with respite services for seven to 30 days a year so that they do not burn out. Those who need a break over the weekend will welcome a move that will let them leave the patient at an elder-care centre for a few hours.
This will "allow our elders to age in place and live their golden years with or close to their families", Mr Gan said.