New health plan may lead to loss of benefits

Legislator, academic say government scheme will cost more and offer less cover

PUBLISHED : Monday, 13 January, 2014, 4:59am
UPDATED : Monday, 13 January, 2014, 4:59am

Bosses may cease providing health insurance plans for their workers after the government standardises the city's medical insurance products in an upcoming reform, according to a legislator and a professor.

And employees may lose the right to claim clinic and non-hospital bills under group insurance plans bought by their companies.

This could be one result of a Health Protection Scheme (HPS) proposed by the government that would raise the price of individual medical insurance plans, said lawmaker Chan Kin-por and professor Peter Yuen Pok-man of Polytechnic University.

"The scheme is not likely to attract employers currently providing varying types of health insurance plans to migrate their plans to HPS," Yuen said. He quoted a 2011 survey of 409 companies from 10 business sectors covering 35,678 employees that indicated most employers' group health plans covered their staff for both outpatient and hospital benefits.

This meant workers could now claim some or all of their bills for private clinic visits, dental care or other health services. While the minimum requirements of the upcoming HPS proposal would not cover such expenses, minimum cover for hospitalisation and some ambulatory procedures would be wider, pushing up prices.

Currently, about 20 per cent of local workers are insured by their companies under a group plan.

Chan said many workers currently also purchased small, cheaper top-up insurance plans on top of the group benefit offered by their employers.

Under the HPS proposal, all existing medical insurance products will have to meet the minimum requirements laid down by the government. The Food and Health Bureau expect plan prices to increase by about 10 per cent, while the insurance industry projects rises of over 30 per cent.

In a Legco paper, the bureau said some group plans bought by companies offered limited protection in terms of benefit coverage due to budget constraints.

It said it would be desirable for group-based products to comply with the minimum requirements, while acknowledging some employers might drop health insurance cover because the more comprehensive products might cost too much.

A "conversion option" could be offered to employers - meaning staff could switch the group plan to an individual standard plan without re-underwriting when they left the company.