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SINGAPORE citizens will receive higher transitional subsidies for the first two years of MediShield Life - a universal health insurance scheme to be rolled out by the end of the year.
To further ease the move to the new national scheme, they will receive a 90 per cent subsidy in the first year and a 70 per cent subsidy in the second year. This is higher than the earlier announced rate of 80 per cent and 60 per cent, respectively, for the first two years.
Health Minister Gan Kim Yong on Thursday announced this in Parliament as he responded to queries about the MediShield Life Scheme Bill, which makes provision for the scheme's implementation and administration.
"What this means is that Singapore citizens moving from MediShield (the existing basic healthcare insurance) to MediShield Life will pay only 10 per cent of the net premium increase in the first year, or less than S$3 per month, while enjoying significantly enhanced benefits under MediShield Life."
The net premium increase is derived after accounting for the various subsidies, including premium subsidies and Pioneer Generation subsidies, which will be provided to help Singaporeans afford their premiums.
Mr Gan added that the transitional subsidy rate for the third and fourth years of the scheme will stay at 40 per cent and 20 per cent, respectively.
The transitional subsidies will be phased out in the fifth year of MediShield Life, but lower-to-middle income households, or up to two-thirds of all households, will continue to benefit from premium subsidies.
In his closing speech on the new Bill that has been passed, Mr Gan assured the House that no one, especially the pioneer generation, will lose their MediShield Life coverage due to the inability to pay for their higher premiums.
Responding to queries from Members of Parliament (MPs) about additional help, he said there will be provision for additional premium support for those who need further help and those facing financial difficulties.
On questions about the facilitated eligibility checks, the health minister reiterated that the idea is to extend subsidies to all eligible Singaporeans "as conveniently as possible", especially those in the lower- and middle-income groups.
As for MPs' concerns about protecting individuals' information, Mr Gan said that "stringent safeguards are in place to protect the information from unintended or inappropriate uses".
"First, only authorised persons will be allowed to access, use or disclose medical and financial information for the specified purposes . . . Second, the minister in charge of the agency that controls the information requested will have to approve the disclosure of that information, and can impose appropriate terms and conditions."
Under the new Bill, it is an offence for anyone to access, use or disclose such information without authorisation. The maximum penalty is a fine of up to S$5,000 and 12 months' jail.
In response to MP Gan Thiam Poh's query on whether authorised persons will be allowed to check an individual's credit records with banks, the minister said that the eligibility checks only extend to existing income records within government databases.
During the session, Mr Gan noted that while the MPs generally support the idea of having appropriate penalty and premium recovery measures, several have expressed concern that these measures will not be unfairly imposed on those who intend to pay but either cannot afford to or simply forgot to do so.
He stressed that the premium recovery framework and penalty are aimed at a small group of freeloaders who wilfully default on payment and that premium payment will be made as convenient as possible.
The issue of potential over-consumption of medical treatment under MediShield Life was also raised in Parliament.
To manage over-consumption and over-provision of treatment, Mr Gan said MediShield Life retains deductible and co-payment components to safeguard against the "buffet syndrome".
He also urged patients, healthcare providers, insurers and family members to do their part in ensuring cost-effective and sustainable care.
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