Work injuries expenses: 1-in-20 chances workers may have to pay?

Leong Sze Hian

I refer to the Ministries of Manpower and Health’s joint reply (“Employer’s responsibility to take care of worker” [ST, Mar 14])  to Mr Tan Suan Tiu’s letter “Worker’s hefty bill affects company too” (ST, Mar 3).

Why reduce employer’s responsibility?

The reply states:

“Since 2008, there have been no additional subsidies for hospitalisation associated with work injuries. This is in line with the principle that it is the employers’ responsibility to ensure the safety and health of their employees at the work place.”

Does this mean that prior to the change of the former Workmen’s Compensation Act to the Workmen’s Injury Act in 2008, workers who were treated in public hospitals for work injuries, were not denied the usual subsidies in subsidised hospital wards?

What kind of a “principle” are we talking about – when on the one hand we say that “it is the employers’ responsibility to ensure the safety and health of their employees at the work place”, and yet we reduce the employer’s liability (‘responsibility’) for medical expenses to $25,000?

Protect workers’ rights?

Is Singapore the only country in the world that expects workers who are injured at work, to run the risk of having to pay for the medical expenses incurred in excess of $25,000?

Did NTUC object to these changes to protect workers?

Did the Manpower Minstry in moving for the change in the legislation in Parliament in 2008, highlight this significant erosion of workers’ basic right to medical expenses arising from work injuries in Parliament? Did any of our Members of Parliament (MPs) speak up on this? Did any of our media report on this?

The reply also states:

“The cap of $25,000 fully covers the medical expenses incurred in more than 95 per cent of claims requiring hospitalisation.Cases such as the one cited by Mr Tan, which exceeded this cap, are rare. In such situations, patients who have financial difficulties should approach the hospitals’ medical social workers for assistance.”

Is a one-in-20 chance of being personally out-of-pocket for medical expenses incurred in a work associated injury, supposed to  make workers feel assured?

Is it fair for an ordinary worker like Mr Tan Guan Seng who wrote to the Straits Times Forum, to have to pay $122,000 out of his own pocket, because his C-class hospitalisation bill came up to $147,000?

Apply for Medifund?

To say that “patients who have financial difficulties should approach the hospitals’ medical social workers for assistance”, is in my view an uncaring remark, as Medifund is normally approved only when all your family members’ Mediave accounts have been exhausted, almost all your assets have been depleted, you cannot be staying in a private property, etc.

So, does it mean that the next time you are injured in a very serious work associated accident, you may have to lie that you were not injured at work (at home or outside or something) during the admission process, so that you will not be denied the 80 per cent subsidy in C-class wards?

With regard to “…where appropriate, we encourage employers to consider additional medical coverage for injuries sustained by their workers during the course of work. They can also opt for B2 or C wards to lower the cost of hospitalisation”, how many employers actually insure their workers in excess of the $25,000 cap under the Workmen’s Injury Act?

I think the reply is akin to a ‘whitewash’, as it does not say that the worker will not be given the usual subsidies even if he opts for B2 or C ward.

Foreign workers are better off?

If you are a foreign worker, employers are responsible for the entire medical bill if you are hospitalised. Employers are required to insure foreign workers for $15,000 of medical expenses, but have unlimited liability for their foreign workers’ medical bills.

Of course, what may usually happen, is that the employer may cancel the injured foreign worker’s work permit so that he will be deported, to avoid having to pay for the worker’s medical expenses.

Even now, with this issue having been raised in the newspaper forum pages and The Online Citizen over the last three months or so, I believe no media or MPs have even talked about this issue.

Is there no one in Singapore who will speak up for workers’ rights?

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