WHAT’S A FAREWELL WITHOUT PROPER MEDICAL INSURANCE?

The COVID-19 virus has created an unprecedented global crisis, where the death toll is large for both more developed and less developed countries. There is also a strong correlation between the high death rate and the lack of access to proper health insurance. People who lacked health insurance tend to delay or even forgo the medical care they needed in their lives, due to the financial burden that medical expenses can potentially cause. This is in addition to the high costs of the healthcare service in Singapore even though Singapore provides quality healthcare. In fact, we can take a look at Gleneagles Hospital: the daily rate of an ICU alone is $808. With the addition of medical test/treatment costs, as well as the potential loss of income, healthcare would then be so much less affordable for many of us.

With the rapidly evolving situation of this pandemic, Singapore has announced that free treatment will be strictly only for public hospitals, and that there would be no more free treatment for short-term visitors. This coverage provided by the Ministry of Health (MOH) did not apply to outpatient treatment at general practitioner clinics or polyclinics, or treatment at private medical centres. Therefore, it is advisable for one to buy health insurance whenever one is able to afford it.

WHY WASTE MONEY ON SOMETHING I MIGHT NEVER NEED?

Let me share my story with you.

I came from a less privileged family background, and it was not easy for any of us to afford proper medical coverage. However, 20 years ago my mother suffered from cancer. Thankfully, the insurance that my mum previously bought from a stranger had saved her. This incident led her children to join the insurance industry, including myself.

I always share this story with my clients to consider the possible consequences of not affording to pay premiums for an insurance. Does that mean that they can afford to fall sick? Not only is health insurance able to offset the potentially expensive medical expenses for the quality services provided in Singapore healthcare, it can also ease off the potential worries associated with the healthcare expenses, which can usually create a lot of emotional and mental burden among families.

As an insurance practitioner for the past 20 years, as well as being a beneficiary from the corporate health medical system, I am thankful for these arrangements from health insurances. In fact, the government has also made the purchase of basic health insurance compulsory for everyone in Singapore regardless if you are a citizen, permanent resident, or even a hired migrant worker. This government policy ensures that people have their basic healthcare needs taken care of, which reduces the concerns of expensive medical bills especially when facing difficult-to-combat illnesses such as COVID-19. I might sound like contradicting myself here, but I will go into the details in a later section.

IS IT EXPENSIVE TO PURCHASE A MEDICAL INSURANCE?

For as low as $120 per year (which is $10 per month), owners of health insurance can expect at least a basic coverage from a health insurance policy. This is an affordable price to consider; in the event that the person covered by a health insurance suffers from illnesses, the medical expenses can be covered by the health insurance.

The premiums do vary based on a myriad of factors. There might even be some policies that offer an unlimited sum assured. In particular, Simplecare CORE (by NOWhealth) costs from only $45/month, which offers up to $1,300,000.00 sum assured per year that provides for in-patient and day-patient care. 

Nevertheless, other expenses related to the illness, such as recovery expenses, are also covered by these insurance plans. An additional benefit would be having a reduced wait time for medical services, which can prove crucial for illnesses that need immediate treatment.

AM I COVERED BY MY EMPLOYER?

Health insurance need not only be bought at the individual scale; it can also be bought at a company scale at a more cost-effective price. As such, employers can consider such options in order to take another step in protecting their staffs’ wellbeing, which proves to be economically beneficial in the long run because the staffs’ wellbeing strongly correlates to the company’s performance. Products such as Group MediWell Plus allow for comprehensive group coverage regardless of the size of the organisation. For a company buying an aggregate private hospitalisation plan, their premium can be as low as $296.39 per year depending on the age group. From another perspective, an employer’s act of buying insurance translates to a healthier workplace culture, as it means that the organisation prioritises ethics as much as it prioritises economic progress.

WHO CAN I BUY INSURANCE FROM?

There are many insurers in Singapore that provide insurance plans, such as Now Health International medical insurance and AXA’s SmartCare Optimum. Each insurance policy varies in their coverage offered. While some insurers allow for fast claims of medical expenses, there are also plans that allow for flexible or specific coverages and even covering your employees worldwide. Worldwide covered is especially important medical coverage and often employers bought travel insurance instead of international medical insurance due to cost factor. One important aspect where employers didn’t realise is the travel insurance is time sensitive and many disease outbreak like Covid-19 is already a known event, therefore travel insurance won’t be able to respond to it. Unlike international medical insurance, diseases like Covid-19 will be covered when you’re travelling overseas or back at home in Singapore by having international medical insurance.

WHAT OTHER TYPES OF HEALTH INSURANCE SHOULD I CONSIDER?

Nevertheless, these are the general kinds of plans that insurance companies provide:

  • Hospital cash plan to supplement your hospital & surgical insurance plan or replace your loss of income as a result of hospitalisation. Health Cash Plan offered by AXA Insurance is one of the good examples as the plan covers up to 730 days per medical condition in lifetime. Do you know that you can only claim up to 14 days for paid outpatient sick leave and 60 days for paid hospitalisation leave? And it depends on how long you work with the firm. I’ve a staff member who joined last year and she was hospitalised shortly after she joined. In that situation, it will be useful for her to be covered by a health cash plan to cover her loss of income or to fund her expenses and maybe to supplement her hospital & surgical insurance plan.
  • Personal accident insurance covers expenses incurred in the event of accidents. Many personal accident plan such as PA Star Insurance by Sompo Insurance cover Medical Treatment for accidents and 17 Specified Infectious Disease including Dengue Fever, Hand Foot Mouth Disease and ZIKA virus. Events like Recuperation Cash Allowance due to Accidental Miscarriage, Trauma Counselling Expenses, Facial Disfigurement & Reconstructive Surgery are also covered. Insect / Animal Bites and Food Poisoning are also covered.
  • Critical illness protection provides a safety net against exorbitant bills from special treatments required to recover. For many clients, this protection has significantly helped to reduce the burden from the loss of income caused by unexpected critical illnesses, such as stroke or heart attack. You may want to check out the Health Cash Plan offered by AXA Insurance and it offers a lump sum payout upon first diagnosis of selected types of cancer

DO I NEED MEDICAL COVERAGES IN ADDITION TO SINGAPORE’S COMPULSORY MEDICAL INSURANCES?

As mentioned before, Singapore citizens and Permanent Residents do have mandatory health insurance plans, such as MediShield life, as well as a compulsory saving plan called CPF MediSave which is contributed by both the employer and employees. While both MediShield Life and CPF Medisave can provide basic protection against large hospital bills, these are merely safety nets that can only offer minimal protection. That is to say, even with these basic mandatory health insurance plans, families still have to bear huge financial burdens in the event that a member in the family is struck with a severe illness. Foreigners would be in a worse situation in this case. In fact, health insurance agents like me have encountered many stories of people who regretted being unable to save their loved ones due to the lack of a plan to buy private health insurance early. It is really important to purchase your own private health insurance as a means to protect yourself.

At Raffles Provident LLP, we can help you customize your plans according to your needs and budget. We recognise that there are people who might require international medical coverages; hence we encourage you to consider covering yourself with our regional or global health insurances.

Even in the case of terminal illnesses, it would seem much better to first exercise all the possible options the world can offer, before bidding a proper farewell without regrets. It is always better to ensure that safety nets are in place, and these can be established with a thorough understanding of the various costs and benefits that are available around in Singapore. This is especially so in precarious times, such as the COVID-19 situation that has happened on a global scale, when people start to realise that health is an integral part of living safely and happily.

By Andrew Ang, author of four books and three chartered certifications

Date: 12th March 2020

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