The new MediShield Life Scheme Bill tabled in Parliament yesterday, 19 January seeks to grant wide-ranging powers to the administrator of the scheme to access the income and health status of policy holders, without first gaining their consent to do so, reported local media.
Policy holders can opt out of having their personal information accessed, but will then not be eligible for income-related subsidies for their premiums, nor be automatically given a clean bill of health.
The administrator would also have the authority to recover unpaid premiums through employers or banks.
It is not clear who the “national insurance administrator” for the scheme would be, or if it would be managed by a private contractor. Access to information of policy holders, however, is said to be granted to “authorised civil servants”.
Such broad-ranging powers are deemed necessary, for fear of default payments on premiums by policy holders who can afford it, thus causing a heavier load on others.
Dr Chia Shi Lu, head of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Health, supported the access to personal details. “There has been quite a lot of feedback from Singaporeans, and particularly from the elderly, who are unhappy with government agencies repeatedly requesting personal and financial information from them in order to qualify for any number of government schemes,” he was quoted by media as saying.
MediShield Life will replace the current MediShield when it starts at the end of 2015, and the scheme will cover everyone for life regardless of their health condition. Those with pre-existing illness will need to pay 30% additional premiums annually for the first 10 years.
Full premiums are also payable by Singaporeans and permanent residents living overseas for long periods.
Premiums are expected to be higher than for the current Medishield, and although the government has announced that it would provide “transitional subsidises”, it it not confirmed that such subsidies will continue beyond the first four years.
The Bill also proposes penalties for policy holders who default on payments or provide false information, with fines of up to S$5,000, a jail sentence or up to a year, or both.
The same penalty would also apply to anyone who accesses, uses or discloses the information without permission, a measure which is supposed to deter abuse of database.
Obstructing investigation into offences can draw a maximum fine of $20,000 and a year in jail.
The Bill also proposes for a MediShield Life Council which can review the policy and parameters and recommend changes to the Health Minister to ensure that continues to provide coverage for citizens. it is not clear if such changes might mean an increase in premiums.
The Council would be made up of “experts from people, private and public sectors”, and would have overview of the administration of the scheme.