The Ministry of Health (MOH) has responded to an inquiry by The Online Citizen in relation to an earlier article on how overseas Singaporeans could face legal problems with Medishield Life.
A petition was started and submitted to Health Minister Gan Kim Yong, raising concerns that overseas Singaporeans, who have existing healthcare coverage in their host country and hence might not be aware of the need to pay Medishield Life premiums, could run afoul of the law as payment defaulters when they return.
The petition called for an open dialogue with the authorities and proposed that overseas Singaporeans can pay for Medishield Life for a specific period of use – a common practice in industry health coverage plans – such as when they return to Singapore after their stint overseas.
Medishield Life is currently mandatory for all Singaporeans and payment defaulters can be prevented from leaving Singapore, fined or jailed.
TOC asked MOH the following questions:
1) Has the government considered granting exemptions, temporary or otherwise, to Singaporeans overseas for the Medishield Life scheme, especially if they have existing plans in host countries that covers them adequately? If not, why?
2) How strictly does the government plan to enforce penalties for defaulters who are working overseas, including fines, jail terms and prevention from leaving the country, as stated in the Medishield Life Scheme Act?
3) There are more than 200,000 Singaporeans living overseas. What has MOH done to make them aware of the penalties that could be imposed on them if they are not able to pay their Medishield Life premiums?
4) Has the government consulted overseas Singaporeans on Medishield Life at all?
5) The petition writers are of the view that Medishield Life covers like a health insurance plan rather than a life insurance plan, and hence should not impose premium requirements (i.e. continuous payments, penalties for non-payment) as a life plan would. Can you comment on this?
In its response, MOH did not answer any of the questions directly, and had mostly reverted to the usual template answers that the petition writers encountered.
“As part of this more inclusive approach, all Singaporeans also contribute to this national risk pool, as part of collective responsibility,” said the MOH spokesperson. “This also extends to Singaporeans based overseas, as they can also benefit from MediShield Life protection any time they choose to return to Singapore, regardless of changes to their health condition.”
There is also no indication that payment waiver will be considered for overseas Singaporeans. If anything, MOH’s response suggested that it will continue to do what the petitioners were concerned about: Chase their families in Singapore.
“For those who do not pay, we will continue to write to them at their NRIC address, over several months, to give them time to respond. If they are in financial difficulty, they can request for assistance and we will assess them accordingly. For those who need to top up their Medisave accounts to make payment, we will work with them and/or if they request, their family members, to facilitate the process.”
“Non-payment of premiums in itself is not an offence that will lead to imprisonment,” added MOH. “Premium recovery measures will only be undertaken if our sustained outreach to the individual has been willfully ignored over a significant period of time. One of these measures is the imposition of travel restrictions out of Singapore,” noting that this restriction will only be imposed “as a last resort”.
MOH did not clarify if overseas Singaporeans who do not have a contact address that is occupied by family members who can regularly check their mail might be considered “willful defaulters”.
MOH also did not indicate if they plan to reach out to overseas Singaporeans to inform them about the scheme, only that they have “taken note of the concerns of overseas Singaporeans and will take them into account” when improving the scheme.
“Our current focus is to ensure the smooth implementation of MediShield Life but we understand the concerns and will continue to review our policies from time to time. In the review, we will take into consideration feedback received, including the concerns that have been raised, and we will seek the views of the MediShield Life Council.”
Meanwhile, the group of overseas Singaporeans heading the petition, representing more than 1,600 signatories with the majority residing overseas, have submitted it to Minister Gan on 18 August, calling for open dialogue with MOH.
“We hope to be able to speak to you and the Medishield Life Council to come to an amicable solution,” wrote Ms Juliet Low, who leads the group. “This can be arranged via teleconference with the embassy… We look forward to hearing from you favourably before the end of August 2015.”