It has been a year since the MediShield Life universal insurance scheme has been introduced to Singapore and more people have been getting help with their medical bills - with payouts on the rise.

Approximately 400,000 claims were made between last November until September this year, and more than S$600 million was paid out.

A Ministry of Health spokesman said that S$102.5 million was given out to those who were previously uninsured and S$307.5 million was disbursed for 291,500 claims from the old MediShield.

MediShield life covers both citizens and PRs

MediShield Life was launched last year in November and was designed to cover every Singaporean and permanent resident by subsidising medical fees for life. Previously, those that were too old or sick were not covered as it had an age ceiling and excluded some pre-existing conditions - it was not known how large the group was.

However, it was deemed that at least 25,000 people had a serious pre-existing disease and had to pay 30% more in premiums for the first 10 years.

Ever since the introduction, the previously uninsured are covered and getting more in payouts. 65,000 new claims have been made and S$1577 is given out on average, a S$38 increase compared to other policyholders (average of S$1,539). Both are about 20% higher than the average claim of S$1,271 under the old MediShield.

Previously uninsured claimants who were aged 93 and above had a higher average claim of S$1,968 — their 3,100 claims amounted to S$6.1 million paid out, said the MOH.

MP Joan Pereira, a member of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Health, said: "The impact and support afforded by MediShield Life's enhanced benefits would be more pronounced as the population ages."

Increase not a surprise

Dr. Jeremy Lim, head of the health and life sciences and public sector practices of consulting firm Oliver Wyman in Asia-Pacific said that the increase is not surprising as the latent or pent-up demand for health services from the previously uninsured adds up.

"This should stabilise and so future claims should taper off," he said, "All in, it is too early to celebrate or worry about financial sustainability. But what we as a society should be happy for is that MediShield life was intended to increase affordable access to healthcare for all Singaporeans and the early experience suggests this has become a reality."

But with higher payouts, comes higher premiums. Premiums increased to S$1.75 billion in the past 11 months, compared to S$685.7 million in the same period the previous year. The premium per person is between S$130 and S$1,530 depending on the age, and although half was subsidised by the government, critics felt the amounts were still high for individuals to pay, for the low amount of subsidies offered.

A more inclusive society

The scheme was still generally well-received as it meant a more inclusive society. The premiums collected - minus the subsidies given - will be invested in Special Singapore Government Securities as these have long-term stability, said Ms. Fang Ai Lian, who chairs the MediShield Life Council.

The council decides on appeals, including requests from Singaporeans who have migrated abroad, to be excluded from the scheme. Last month, it was announced that they could be "suspended" from the scheme, but will have to pay the full unpaid premiums plus interest if they do return permanently and seek medical treatment.

Ms. Fang said that about 200 people have applied for such an exemption. The council had to consider the "unique circumstances" of each case to provide a fair and consistent solution to all, she added.

The first anniversary of MediShield Life also meant the end of a freeze on the top-up portions of Integrated Shield (IPs) premiums. MIMS

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