Move to include addictions, self-harm under MediShield Life praised
Medical professionals and advocates have praised a proposal to include insurance coverage of treatment for drug addiction, alcoholism and injuries arising from attempted suicide or deliberate self-harm under MediShield Life.
This will be a step in the right direction that will better support patients who need such treatments and reduce the stigma against seeking help, they said yesterday.
The changes were among the recommendations announced by the MediShield Life Council on Tuesday. They will likely take effect early next year if they are accepted.
Speaking to The Straits Times, Dr Daniel Fung, chairman of the medical board at the Institute of Mental Health, said the change would help reduce stigma and lower the financial and psychological barriers associated with seeking help.
He added that it will also serve as a signal to the public that addiction and self-harm can be medically treated and are not simply socially undesirable behaviours.
"Stigma is determined by the way society views the illness and if there is a better understanding of the medical aspect of such behaviours, there will be better understanding of the medical condition," he said.
Dr Lim Boon Leng, a psychiatrist at Gleneagles Hospital, agreed.
"Addiction is a chronic relapsing medical condition, and like many other medical conditions, it is related to a complex interplay between one's genes and environment," he said.
"Suicide tendencies and self-harm, while not diagnoses, in themselves, are often symptoms of underlying psychiatric diagnoses like depression, which can be treated."
He said these psychiatric conditions are medical conditions and should be viewed as such.
"Removing them from the exclusions is significant in removing the discrimination and stigmatisation towards mental illnesses. Hopefully, this is the first step towards providing better insurance coverage for all mental illnesses."
The reasoning behind excluding attempted suicide and self-harm from MediShield Life coverage is so as to not encourage such behaviour.
In March, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Edwin Tong, who was then Senior Minister of State for Health, had said this in response to a parliamentary question asked by then Nominated MP Anthea Ong.
But Dr Lim said yesterday that continuing to exclude such treatments would not be effective in discouraging the behaviours and would instead discourage afflicted individuals from seeking help and treatment.
"For example, would removing treatments of diabetes encourage the public to adopt behaviours to prevent diabetes? I don't think so."
Advocacy groups also praised the proposed changes.
Mr Gasper Tan, chief executive of community support group Samaritans of Singapore, said the group hopes the inclusion of treatment for suicide attempts in MediShield Life will lower the barrier to seeking help for individuals facing a crisis.