The Straits Times
March 19, 2004
New health insurance for all
By Salma Khalik
A compulsory national medical insurance scheme will be put in place to plug a gap in Singapore’s efforts to make health care affordable. Acting Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan will be taking the next few months to hammer out a workable medical insurance plan – a call made time and again by MPs.
Yesterday, Mr Khaw agreed with Government Parliamentary Committee for health chairman Lily Neo that the concept of ‘risk-pooling’ was needed. While there are private medical insurance plans, insurers tend to ‘cherry-pick’, servicing mainly the low-risk group: the young and healthy.
The whole idea is to help Singaporeans ‘stretch their Medisave dollars’, he said. While there is $30 billion in Medisave money, 17 per cent of CPF members have less than $1,000 in their accounts. Even those with the maximum $30,000 in their Medisave will find it insufficient for their needs.
But while it is for the people to decide if they want to opt for MediShield, this new scheme will be compulsory unless the consensus opinion is otherwise.
‘To minimise administrative costs, a compulsory national scheme is best. It ensures full coverage with the lowest premiums. It ensures maximum equity
and efficiency,’ Mr Khaw explained.
Comment: The proponents of medical savings accounts (MSAs or HSAs, the health savings accounts of the Medicare bill) frequently cite the “success” of the MSA program in Singapore as a basis for supporting a similar program in the United States.
Singapore has a Medisave program which is composed of individual MSA-type
accounts, a MediShield program which covers catastrophic, life threatening disorders, and a Medifund program that serves the poor. What has become evident is that coverage for non-catastrophic illnesses is clearly needed. Their current system leaves many without affordable access to essential but non-catastrophic health care services.
It comes as no surprise that they have discovered that universal risk-pooling will be necessary to ensure full coverage at the lowest cost and to provide maximum equity and efficiency. It seems that policymakers in the United States should be able to come to the same conclusion.