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Govt supports proposals for MediShield Life

Those with pre- existing conditions will be covered

[SINGAPORE] Extending coverage to those with pre-existing conditions, substantially increasing claim limits, especially for outpatient cancer chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatments, and starting premium rebates from age 66 instead of 71, were some of the recommendations put up by the MediShield Life Review Committee (MLRC) yesterday.

While the enhancements - comprising the raising of claim limits and lowering of co-insurance - will inevitably result in an increase in premiums, the government said it will ensure that Medisave withdrawal limits will be sufficient for all MediShield Life premiums.

It also said that it accepted the committee's recommendation and will bear most of the cost of bringing in those with pre-existing conditions.

"In this way, the government will help all Singaporeans, including those with pre-existing conditions and those who are currently excluded, achieve MediShield Life cover, while ensuring that premiums are kept affordable for policyholders," said the Ministry of Health in a statement yesterday.

However, those with pre-existing conditions will have to pay 30 per cent higher premiums to reflect their higher risks, over a period of 10 years.

Meanwhile, the premium increase for remaining policyholders as a result of universal coverage should be no more than 3 per cent from current premiums, said the committee, adding that this reflects public support for inclusiveness that the committee has gleaned from its feedback sessions.

While premiums will inevitably rise, to support the increased benefits, the government will take on the bulk of the cost, stressed the committee. In addition, to help offset costs, from next year, the employer contribution to Medisave will rise by one percentage point, as announced in the Singapore Budget 2014. The government added that it will ensure that Medisave withdrawal limits are sufficient for all MediShield Life premiums.

A range of subsidies, financial assistance, and other forms of funding support for the lower to middle-income classes (this constitutes up to two-thirds of the population) will also be a "permanent feature" of the scheme. For the Pioneer Generation, the premium subsidies will be for life.

Separately, transitional subsidies will be extended to all Singapore citizens, regardless of income, over four years, to help Singaporeans adjust to the premium increases.

Meanwhile, the Life Insurance Association, Singapore (LIA) also announced that the MediShield Life recommendations will have a minimal impact on the private insurance premiums component of Integrated Shield Plans. Integrated Shield Plans are policies that provide additional benefits beyond MediShield coverage; some 60 per cent of all Singaporeans have Integrated Shield Plans.

The Labour Movement also voiced its support for MediShield Life, but added that it is important to ensure its relevance.

"As the biggest employer in Singapore, the government could lead by example and increase its one per cent Additional Medisave Contribution in the existing Medisave-cum-Subsidised Outpatient (MSO) Scheme to cater for premiums and medical costs," said the National Trades Union Congress in a statement. "Similar, other employers can make additional Medisave contributions to boost workers' ability to pay for MediShield Life premiums," it added.

Another area to look into is that of a tiered withdrawal scheme for Medisave where older Singaporeans, depending on their age, are allowed to withdraw more compared to younger Singaporeans for outpatient needs, said Halimah Yacob, chair of the PAP.SG committee.

"This will help our seniors with sufficient Medisave balances as they will not have to pay cash when they visit the outpatient clinics which is a drain on them," she said.

The MediShield Life Review Committee is expected to release its final report by end-June. The government will then respond to the committee's full recommendations and share details of the finalised premiums and subsidiaries by early July.