Parliament: About 55 maids per year need medical treatment costing more than $15,000, says Sam Tan

Maids seated inside a maid agency at Bukit Timah Shopping Centre.
Maids seated inside a maid agency at Bukit Timah Shopping Centre.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Over the last three years, an average of 55 domestic workers per year needed inpatient or day surgery treatments that cost more than $15,000.

Such cases made only about 3 per cent of the 1,900 cases of maids who chalked up medical bills at public hospitals each year during that period, Minister of State for Manpower Sam Tan told Parliament on Monday (March 19).

He said there are about three to four cases of employers on average each year, over the past three years, whose maids face medical bills above $50,000 at public hospitals.

Employers must purchase medical insurance coverage of at least $15,000 for their maids, and mandating higher coverage will raise premium costs for all employers, said Mr Tan, replying to Mr Patrick Tay (West Coast GRC) and Dr Tan Wu Meng (Jurong GRC), who asked about the measures available to help employers cope with high medical bills for maids.

Mr Lim Biow Chuan (Mountbatten) also brought up feedback from a private estate resident whose domestic helper incurred a bill of more than $50,000 for critical illness.

"He can afford to pay, it's just very difficult for me to explain to him that he has to pay that large sum of money for a domestic helper who is really not related to him," he said, asking Mr Tan for advice.

Mr Tan said the Manpower Ministry leaves it to employers to decide to take up insurance plans with higher coverage if they are concerned about the risk of higher medical bills.

He added that the ministry will continue to encourage employment agencies to more proactively disseminate information on various medical insurance coverage options to employers.

"For the minority of employers who face genuine difficulties in paying their (foreign domestic workers') medical bills, they can seek help through the medical social workers at the relevant healthcare institutions. Medical social workers will assess each case individually and provide assistance based on their needs," said Mr Tan.

Mr Tay asked if the ministry will look at ensuring maids do not suffer from major medical conditions such as mental illnesses, including depression, at the point of hiring.

In response, Mr Tan said that all maids coming to Singapore have to undergo a full medical examination for major illnesses such as heart conditions, though he noted that this does not include symptoms of mental illnesses.