Reply to Parliamentary Question on health and life insurance for persons with disabilities
QUESTION NO 468
NOTICE PAPER 195 OF 2020
FOR WRITTEN ANSWER
Date: For Parliament Sitting on 4 January 2021
Name and Constituency of Member of Parliament
Mr Leon Perera, MP, Aljunied GRC
To ask the Prime Minister (a) in what way has the Government consulted with persons with disabilities (PWDs) and their representative organisations in developing guidelines for private insurers on prohibiting discrimination against PWDs when providing health and life insurance; (b) whether the Government has (i) collected statistics on the number of PWDs who have purchased health or life insurance from private insurers or (ii) conducted any study on the coverage and pricing of health and life insurance for PWDs and, if not, whether the Government intends to do so; and (c) whether psychosocial disabilities and mental health conditions will be included as prohibited grounds of discrimination under the proposed guidelines.
Answer by Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Senior Minister and Minister in charge of MAS:
1. We have two national insurance schemes – MediShield Life that provides basic health insurance coverage for life, and CareShield Life that covers basic financial support for severely disabled policyholders. Both are applicable to persons with disabilities (PWDs).
2. Private insurers also offer PWDs a variety of life and health insurance products. They have different underwriting practices and risk orientations, and so the coverage of private insurance products varies. The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) and the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) have been working together with the insurance industry to ensure that PWDs are not discriminated against.
3. In particular, MAS and MSF have been formulating guidelines for insurers to adopt fair and responsible practices towards PWDs and those with mental health conditions. Under the proposed guidelines, insurance applications from PWDs should be subject to the same underwriting policy and process applied to those without disabilities. Any differential treatment should be based on an objective assessment of information relevant to the risks to be insured, rather than the fact of a disability per se.
4. In practical terms, this means that insurers should not turn away an insurance application merely on the basis that the applicant has a disability. Whether an application is accepted, or any difference in premium is charged, must rest on actuarial data or reliable information that is pertinent to the risks being insured.
5. This reflects established and fair principles in insurance. Insurers must carefully consider the risks presented by each policyholder, and charge premiums that reflect the risk for each relative to those of others in the insurance pool. It avoids policyholders with lower risks having to pay higher premiums in order to subsidise those with higher risks.
6. These principles are also in line with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and with the rules in other jurisdictions such as the UK, Germany, Australia and Hong Kong.
7. MAS and MSF have been engaging individuals and groups representing PWDs as well as industry practitioners in formulating the guidelines. MAS has requested the Life Insurance Association Singapore (LIA) and General Insurance Association of Singapore (GIA) to evaluate data on PWDs who have purchased health or life insurance from private insurers, to ensure that customers have been treated fairly. MAS has also asked LIA and GIA to work with relevant partners to ensure that PWDs and those with mental health conditions, as well as their care-givers, receive adequate guidance and assistance on the purchase of insurance.
8. The guidelines will be issued for public consultation soon. The guidelines are expected to be finalised by June this year after incorporating relevant public feedback. Like all our public consultation exercises, we welcome inputs and suggestions.
9. I want to emphasise again, however, that these guidelines are for private insurance products, which come on top of our two national insurance schemes which are available to PWDs.