HK$4.3b health insurance plan to help patients with long-term illnesses qualify for private care

Thousands of patients to qualify for HK$7,200 government subsidy towards health insurance in scheme to ease burden on public services

PUBLISHED : Monday, 23 December, 2013, 5:40am
UPDATED : Monday, 23 December, 2013, 5:40am

Health bosses are planning a HK$4.3 billion scheme to revol-utionise the care of patients with long-term illnesses.

It is proposed that they will receive an annual government subsidy of HK$7,200 so they can buy medical insurance and use private care services, the South China Morning Post has learned.

The move is designed to ease the burden on the public health system, and the Food and Health Bureau estimates 69,800 people with chronic illnesses will qualify by 2016, according to a source.

People with long-term illnesses are currently deemed high-risk and are unable to sign up for mainstream insurance.

But new regulations for the industry mean insurers will be compelled to accept them.

It is thought that after the subsidy, long-term patients will have to pay about HK$15,000 a year for a standard insurance package - about triple the cost for people with no underlying illness.

Patients' Rights Association spokesman Tim Pang Hung-cheong said HK$15,000 may be too high, especially for the retired. But the lawmaker for the insurance sector, Chan Kin-por, said the offer would still be attractive to chronically ill people.

"Many have to use the public services now because they cannot afford private care without an insurance plan," he said.

Under the proposal, all insurance products will have to meet minimum requirements. The products will have to guarantee that patients will be accepted and that their schemes will be renewed. They will also have to cover pre-existing conditions. The bureau plans to set up a HK$4.3 billion pool to cover the costs of insurers who take on high-risk patients. The source said that of this figure, HK$2 billion would cover administrative costs.

The government believed the expenditure of HK$7,200 a year was justified as the cost to the authorities of operating a public hospital bed is currently HK$4,680 a day, while the cost to residents using public hospital facilities is just HK$100 a day.

"These patients are likely to stay not just one to two days, but weeks in hospitals once they are admitted," the source said.

The government estimated the number of high-risk individuals receiving the subsidy would drop to 10,900 by 2040.

Meanwhile, the Food and Health Bureau expects the price of insurance policies to rise by up to 10 per cent as a result of the changes to the market.

It means an insurance plan will cost about HK$3,600 a year for people aged below 30 and HK$5,000 for those aged 40 to 50.

Chan said the estimated cost of HK$5,000 a year for a 40 to 50-year-old was optimistic and the actual cost would far exceed this.

He also said the proposal to standardise insurance packages would violate the free market and limit consumer choice.

A public consultation will be launched early in the new year.