Singapore

Eldershield may be made compulsory and enrolment age lowered

Review Committee also wants Government to take over severe disability insurance scheme and make it compulsory

ElderShield should be made compulsory for everyone, including those with pre-existing disabilities, and coverage should start from age 30 instead of the current 40.

The ElderShield Review Committee, which gave an interim update yesterday, also called for the claims process to be simplified and suggested the Government take over administration of the severe disability insurance scheme.

MP for Jalan Besar GRC Dr Lily Neo, who is deputy chair of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Health, said of the proposals: "This will allow people to be looked after when they are in need."

The full set of recommendations are expected to be ready by the middle of this year.

If implemented, the changes will apply only to future cohorts aged 30 to 40 joining ElderShield for the first time. Those who had opted out previously need not return to the scheme.

Mr Chaly Mah, who chairs the review committee, said: "We want ElderShield to be a social safety net, and we all have a collective responsibility to take care of those with disabilities.

"It is clear to us that the average Singaporean does not understand the risk of severe disability... When you underestimate this risk, it is easy to take the decision to opt out."

Ministry of Health estimates show that half of Singaporeans who are healthy at 65 are at risk of developing a long-term disability over their lifetime.

The committee is still reviewing the cost structure for the enhanced scheme, as well as the size and duration of payouts, which could be different from the current scheme.

Universal coverage will likely push up the cost of premiums. But lowering the enrolment age by 10 years will spread the annual premiums over more years and keep them affordable, the committee said.

Senior Minister of State for Health Chee Hong Tat said in a Facebook post yesterday that an enhanced ElderShield scheme would enable Singaporeans to "pool our risks and resources in preparation for old age".

PILLAR OF SOCIETY

He called the scheme "an important pillar of Singapore's social safety net as our society ages".

Mr Chee added: "The Government will look at providing subsidies to keep the premiums affordable for lower and middle-income Singaporeans.

"This reflects our values in building an inclusive society, where we help and care for one another."

All citizens and permanent residents with Medisave accounts are currently enrolled in ElderShield at age 40 unless they opt out.

Men who join at 40 pay an annual premium of $175 and women $218 for coverage provided by one of three private insurers - Aviva, Great Eastern or NTUC Income - until they reach 65.

Money is paid out to policyholders who cannot independently perform at least three of six daily activities - eating, bathing, dressing, transferring (from the chair to bed, for instance), going to the toilet, and walking or moving around.

Great Eastern's managing director for group marketing, Mr Colin Chan, said: "We have noted the preliminary recommendations.

"In the meantime, it is business as usual for us. We will continue to service our ElderShield customers and assist them with their long-term health care needs."

NTUC Income's general manager for Life & Health Insurance, Mr Andrew Yeo, said: "Income will study the recommendations closely in consultation with the Ministry of Health and other relevant authorities."

Ms Chan Chia Lin, who chairs the panel's government administration sub-committee, said people felt that having the Government as a single administrator would make the claims process easier.

"The feedback was that being a national scheme, it should be administered in a non-profit manner," she added.

Asked what she thinks of the Government overseeing the scheme, Dr Neo said: "If it were you, wouldn't you feel safer knowing the Government is taking control of it rather than have it in private hands?"

Management consultant Bryan Toh, 26, said: "I think the benefits outweigh the costs, and enhanced coverage is always welcome."

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