When I first started my full-time job 15 years ago, my MIL gave me a very good piece of advice. She asked me to go upgrade my health insurance (hospitalisation plan) to the maximum coverage and her reasons were simple: I was better afford the increase in premium as I had started working and it was better to get maximum coverage while I was still fit and healthy. Otherwise, the insurance company may exclude the pre-existing illness in the coverage or demand a higher premium to get a pre-existing condition covered.
At 25, fresh out of Uni and entering the adult working world, the thought of being hospitalized had never crossed my mind but I followed her advice anyway as the premium was still affordable to me.
I upgraded my health insurance to a maximum coverage of 90%, where I would pay 10% of the bill, which was further capped at $3,000. The health insurance covers hospitalisation stay at private hospitals or admission as private patients in government hospitals where I get to choose the doctors I want. The outpatient bills that was incurred 90 days before and after the hospitalisation were also covered.
In another policy, I also had hospitalisation benefits, which paid me $200 for every day stayed in hospital and $100 for every day of hospitalisation leave.
Fast forward 6 years to where I was 31, things started to go wrong for my health. A biopsy done at National Skin Center (NSC) confirmed that I had Melanoma (skin cancer). Thankfully, it was at an early stage. However, it was still a shock as no one in my family tree, from grandparents to cousins, for both sides of my parents, ever had been diagnosed with cancer before. It was also uncommon for my health profile of being a non-smoker, non-drinker, young Asian male to get Melanoma but I got it nevertheless.
The next few weeks were filled with anxiety and uncertainties as my family and I scrambled for the right treatment protocol for this condition that we knew so little about. The recommendation from National Skin Center was for me to do surgery at Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH) because they (NSC and TTSH) were under the National Healthcare Group and that records could be exchanged.
However, as I was under the subsidised track, I would need to wait for a couple of months to see the bone specialist and possibly wait another few months before I could do the surgery to treat my condition, as the schedule at the hospital for subsidised patients was fully packed.
My family and I then went to National Cancer Center to book a Senior Consultant (Dr. Yong) to seek a second opinion. Dr. Yong referred us to a colleague, who was the Head of Hand Surgery at Singapore General Hospital (SGH), Dr. Andrew Chin, to look at my case. When we met Dr. Andrew, he told us that he could do the surgery in about 2 weeks. That was much faster than having to wait for more than 4 months, which by then, my cancer would have progressed to a later and more aggressive stage.
I was admitted to SGH as a private patient and did the surgery. It was a 4-hour long surgery that involved the complete removal of my nail bed and skin grafting was also done to replace the skin that was removed.
The surgery cost around $7,000 and I paid 10% with Medisave and did not fork out any cash. The bills incurred seeing all the senior consultant doctors before the surgery and follow-up checks after the surgery were also 100% covered under my health insurance. I paid those bills upfront and claimed them from my insurance company afterward. The doctor gave me 14 days of MC which I claimed $1,400 hospitalisation benefits.
So, for this incident, not only did I not pay a huge sum upfront to get treatment fast, I actually gained some cash out of it, because I was well-covered by my health insurance. This goes to show the importance of having adequate cover as it could mean a difference between life and death if the illness was not properly treated in time and instead allowed to worsen due to a long waiting time for treatment. Furthermore, I get to choose the best doctors available to increase the chance of success for the surgery.
The story does not end here though.
My oncologist at National Cancer Center ordered a CT scan to make sure there is no cancer cells staying dormant in other parts of the body or organ. He was kind enough to admit me for one day in hospital so that I could make an insurance claim. The CT scan cost around $2,000 and I again claimed up to 90% of the bill and the pre and post hospitlalisation consultation as well as the cash benefits for the hospitalisation leave.
6 months later after my first surgery, I suffered a complication on my operation site and my lymph nodes was infected. I was put on strong IV drip that did not helped, so I went through 2 further surgeries to fix the infection. I stayed in Class A ward during this period and claimed the cash benefits of the hospitalisation stay and subsequent hospitalisation leave. The treatment cost was higher this time round compared to my previous surgery as there were two surgeries being done and I stayed in the hospital for 4 days.
I had a few more surgeries over the years to fix any adnormal growths which later turned out to be non-cancerous after lab tests. For each surgery, I was able to have the bills covered or at least reduced to an affordable amount for myself. I was able to pick the surgeon whom I have confidence in and get the surgery done in the shortest time as a private patient. I was able to rest in the comfort of my own room because it was all part of the plan. Furthermore, I was able to claim hospitalisation cash benefits on the hospitalisation stay or leave. I also had 2 further nasal endoscopy tests done which cost a few hundred dollars each. The total amount of claim I got from my insurance policies for my surgeries and scopes has exceeded $30,000.
I hope to highlight the importance of getting yourself adequately covered by insurance through this article. When I had totally no idea the importance of having the maximum coverage, I was enlightened and thus, I hope this sharing can help someone too.
When we are strong and healthy, we may think that insurance policies are a waste of money. However, when our health starts to deteriorate, whether it is with age or some unknown and unforseen factors, then insurance starts to show its true worth. It is better to be prepared than to get caught offguard by a hefty medical bill.
I am not suggesting that everyone should get maximum 100% coverage with hospitalisation cash benefits because all these comes at a cost of a higher premium paid every month. So, you have to weigh off the pros and cons of higher coverage, more comfortable recuperating environment versus the budget that you can spend on paying the premium.
Singaporeans and PRs are by default covered under Medishield Life but it would mean recuperating in the same room with 5 or 7 other patients, sharing a communal toilet and not having aircon or TV and not being able to choose doctors. The hospitalisation bills are not fully covered as well.
This is the SGH room rates and facilities available in each ward class.
Lastly, building wealth is not just about earning more money through smart investments, career progression or entrepreneurship. It is also about cultivating good money habits such as knowing how to save money so that you do not overspend what you have painstakingly earned. It is preparing for contingency events such as retrenchment or the onset of a major illness that could wipe out all your life savings.
Have you been upskilling yourself to make yourself valuable and marketable so that in the unfortunate event that you lose your job, you are able to find a replacement job quickly? Or do you have more than one source of income that can help you tide through the difficult times if you should lose your main source of income? Are you well-covered with insurance so you do not have to worry about hefty bills or long waiting time to get treated? If you have not thought through these questions and scenarios, it is not too late to start planning now.
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