Investing in medical insurance


  • Letters
  • Sunday, 24 Mar 2013

We need to be as prepared as possible for the uncertainties (and ill-health) that life throws our way.

TELEVISION host Daphne Iking may have only been a teenager when both her paternal grandparents were diagnosed with cancer, but the lesson on the importance of medical insurance has stayed with her since.

“I come from a humble background so when both my paternal grandparents were diagnosed with cancer, it was pretty taxing, financially, for the family when we had to seek treatment. Thank goodness my mother works in the hospital, so that career perk of hers helped with the bills, but it did get me thinking.

“I saw how my parents had to fork out a lot of money for the medical bills, and I could see their frustration wanting the best for my odu (grandma) and aki (grandpa), but they were not able to afford the ‘best’ treatment. I wouldn’t want to trouble anyone financially (if anything happened to me), so I’m a firm believer in having my own medical insurance,” says the mother of two.

So at the age of 22, after joining the working world, Iking decided to get her own medical insurance policy.

“Dad was planning to retire so I knew it was time to get my own insurance. My parents did buy medical insurance for us (children) but it was a very basic plan. Due to the medical history (of cancer and heart attacks) in our family, I knew we were at risk too. Medical insurance is so important to us,” she says.

Today, Iking, 33, and her family – businessman husband Azmi Abdul Rahman, and daughters Isobel Daniella, five, and Iman Daniella, one – all have medical insurance coverage.

Apart from having a medical insurance, Iking also believes in living a healthy lifestyle.

“I’m hooked on yoga. I have been practising yoga for the past four years, but I’ve recently made it a daily practice – even if it means slotting 15 minutes into my schedule to just stretch and breathe. My husband enjoys running on the treadmill but I’m more of an outdoor jogger.

“I have accepted the fact that my body will no longer look the same after two children but this does not mean I should compromise on my stamina and fitness level,” she says.

Yoga is also something she enjoys doing with her children.

“It’s quite impressive how my five-year-old is able to do her own ashtanga poses. The one-year-old is following suit pretty fast. I tried getting my husband to do yoga with us but he’s more of a grunt-and-run sort of guy! Occasionally, when we have a free weekend, we do sweat it out at the park with a jog around the lake with the girls in their prams,” Iking shares.

Businesswoman Chai Wei, 38, is also a firm believer in living a healthy lifestyle.

“People say that health is wealth, and I totally agree with it. Without your health, you can’t do anything ... your life is put on hold. Everything else takes a back seat.

“I try to eat healthy, especially now that I’m breastfeeding my three-month-old son. I find home-cooked food more nutritious so I try to eat at home more,” says the owner of Mori Pin, an accessories boutique specialising in costume jewellery and handbags, and Square Room.

Chai Wei manages her stress by doing “little things – like getting a hair wash, or a manicure”.

“It makes me feel good and it helps me relax before I continue doing the stressful things I need to do. My husband finds it really funny,” she says, adding that she meditates as well.

She also believes in having medical insurance.

“I think it’s extremely important to have medical insurance. About seven years ago, my husband fell ill and was hospitalised for 10 days, and the bill came up to RM25,000. I was very relieved that we had medical insurance.

“It happened so suddenly ... at times like that, you just go blank and you’re not sure what to do. But I’m glad that I didn’t have to worry about the medical expenses,” she says.

Like Iking, Chai Wei also bought her medical insurance when she was in her 20s.

“It just makes sense to buy it in your 20s. I think everyone should get medical insurance in their 20s because it’s the cheapest then.

“As you grow older, it becomes more expensive, and in the event you discover that you have an illness – diabetes or hypertension – these won’t get covered under the insurance, or they might charge a higher premium,” she explains.

Chai Wei adds that as business owners, it is also important for her husband and herself to have their own medical insurance as “we don’t have a company’s medical insurance to turn to”. Even her son has his own medical insurance policy.

Former national shuttler Wong Choon Hann also believes that medical insurance is a necessity, in light of the rise in medical cost today.

Wong, who is now the director of LavieFlo (a company specialising in preserved natural flowers), says he bought a medical insurance policy for his family back in 2008 to make sure everyone’s covered medically.

The Credit Counselling and Debt Management Agency (AKPK) advocates getting medical insurance to help people prepare for life’s medical uncertainties.

(AKPK is a wholly owned subsidiary of Bank Negara Malaysia, set up in 2006 to proactively ensure the resilience of households by providing an avenue for individual borrowers and potential borrowers to seek advice and assistance in managing their finances and debts.)

It’s not surprising as AKPK has found 21% of the 87,395 people who attended its Debt Management Programme citing “high medical expenses” as the reason they default on their loans.

AKPK chief executive officer Koid Swee Lian says that while the government has provided a good healthcare system for all Malaysians, the “medical and health insurance covers the cost of private medical treatment, which includes hospital services, professional fees, hospitalisation benefits, and even a lump sum benefit in the event an insured is diagnosed with a critical illness (depending on the coverage of the insurance)”.

“When a person is ill, the last thing he should have to worry about is the hospital bill. He should have peace of mind while recuperating, and this is where the medical insurance will help lessen his worries.

“Some medical insurance policies also provide an income stream (under disability and hospital income benefit) while an insured undergoes medical treatment. So, in addition to medical coverage, insurance policies can also extend to providing income at times of ill-health,” Koid says.

Koid adds that there are some factors to consider when one plans to buy medical insurance.

“One should consider the features and benefits of the available insurance policies and takaful plans, the risks covered, the terms and conditions (including pre-existing conditions and exclusions), and the amount of premium to be paid.

“Also, find out under what situations the company would allow an individual to make a claim, and what is the company’s insurance claim process like,” she advises.

People should also choose wisely to ensure that the medical policy suits their needs.

“Each policy offers different benefits and different insurers offer different scopes of coverage. Make comparisons and choose one that best suits your needs and budget.

“Buy insurance only from insurers or takaful operators regulated by Bank Negara Malaysia, and make sure that you have full contact details of the agent and insurance company.

“Take time to discuss the medical insurance policy you require with an agent, read the contract carefully, especially the fine print, and understand the terms and conditions well.”

And only buy what you can afford, she adds.

“If your employer has taken on a group plan insurance coverage for you, get the details on the terms of the policy as well as its coverage. Having a group plan should not hinder individuals from getting an individual insurance plan as it is customisable according to his needs and the coverage is not affected if he changes jobs,” she says.

For those who already have medical insurance, how do they decide when to use their medical policy?

“It is advisable to use medical and health insurance whenever medical attention is required, and it is covered under the insurance policy. If the emergency is not covered in your medical insurance, check if public hospitals offer a cheaper alternative since private medical care is more costly.

“Do not agree to a procedure that is not stated in your policy as the insurer will not reimburse the costs of such procedure.”

Investing in medical insurance also comes with expectations, as all three – Iking, Chai Wei and Wong – will attest to.

“Naturally, I want to make sure that my premium is affordable so I will be able to continue paying them consistently, but (the policy should) give me the maximum coverage for all – critical illness, hospitalisation bills, prescribed drugs and therapy, follow-up treatments etc.

“My medical insurance must be sufficient to pay for my medical bills when the need arises. I also expect a lot from the agent and the insurance company. I terminated the policy of a particular insurance company because the agent was not reliable, and the payouts were slow,” Iking says.

Chai Wei agrees.

“I pay my premium on time so should the need arise, I expect the insurance company to cover everything that is agreed upon. It should not give me reasons why this or that isn’t covered under my insurance policy. I expect to get all that I have paid for,” she says.

Chai Wei also believes that additional features like a no-claim discount and high annual and lifetime limit would be good for policy holders.

“If I’m healthy, and I’m paying a premium every year, a no-claim discount would be really good. If I pay premiums for 30 years or 50 years, and there’s nothing wrong with me, I think I should be given a special reward for it.

“Also, I think the discount should increase commensurate with the number of years that I don’t make a claim.

“As for the high annual limit, and the high lifetime limit, I think that’s important too. A 10-day hospital stay cost us RM25,000 seven years ago. I wonder how much it will cost 10 years from now?”

She adds that insurance companies should go further and provide coverage for people with pre-existing illnesses.

“It’s sad that some people can’t get insurance coverage just because they are born with certain illnesses, even though it is no fault of their own.

“Insurance companies should also provide maternity coverage as well, as the cost of delivery is really high these days.

“Insurance companies always say they care about their clients. If that’s so, they should look out for their clients in all aspects, not just where it will profit them the most.”

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