Hong Kong health care and hospitals

More than 128,000 Hongkongers ill-prepared for 100-year life

Hongkongers’ ignorance of their life expectancy has left them ill-prepared for retirement. Stakeholders such as the government, insurers and medical providers should work closely to provide adequate coverage, according to specialised reinsurance firm Swiss Re

PUBLISHED : Monday, 17 September, 2018, 6:02am
UPDATED : Monday, 17 September, 2018, 6:02am

The Hong Kong government is being urged by one of the world’s largest specialised reinsurance companies to do more to ensure adequate health care coverage for its older residents, after it was revealed that more than 128,000 Hongkongers born in 2016 could be unable to seek critical medical treatment when they reach their senior years.

Daisy Ning, Swiss Re’s head of life and health products in Asia, also said the authorities are not doing enough to educate older residents of two new scheme that have been launched to help them finance their retirement.

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And that as the population lives longer and grows, stakeholders such as the government, insurers and medical providers must work more closely to provide more adequate coverage for the elderly.

According to the Census and Statistics Department, Hong Kong’s population is projected to increase from 6.8 million in mid-2003, to 8.38 million by 2033.

Nearly three in 10 will be aged 65 and over, with the median rising more than a decade to 49 in 2033 from 38 in 2003.

Hong Kong’s coverage still has a lot of room to grow
Daisy Ning, head of life and health products in Asia, Swiss Re

Life expectancy for males increased 13.5 years from 67.8 years old in 1971 to 81.3 in 2016, and for females, it rose 12 years from 75.3 to 87.3, and the city now enjoys the world’s highest life expectancy levels.

However, of those born in Hong Kong in 2016, 102,177 females and 26,272 males are projected to have inadequate medical coverage, at a time when many more people in the city are expected to live past 100 years of age, given advances in health care and medical technology.

As average ages rise, the government has rolled out two schemes, the Voluntary Health Insurance System and Public Annuity Scheme, to encourage the elderly and their families to increase savings and investments with a view to their retirement. But so far the response has been lukewarm.

The latter scheme guarantees residents a monthly fixed return after they make a lump-sum investment of between HK$500,000 and HK$1 million (US$63,700-127,000).

Men can receive monthly payouts ranging from HK$290 to HK$5,800 and women HK$265 to HK$5,300 by opting into the lifetime plan, with about 15 years of payments needed for investors to gain such returns.

The scheme was expected to generate around HK$10 billion, but with just 9,410 senior citizens stepping forward so far to take part, less than half the target quota has been reached, HK$4.94 billion. Under the Voluntary Health Insurance Scheme, subscribers will receive an HK$8,000 tax break as an incentive to join, again aimed at easing the burden on the city’s increasingly overstretched public health care system.

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That plan allows participants to use private medical services until they are 100 years old, and is aiming to attract 1.5 million Hongkongers over the next three years.

But Ning said many local residents are still unaware they are now expected to live longer than any other population on the planet, with the result that not enough is being put away to sustain their lifestyles when they retire, but more importantly, are buying inadequate insurance coverage for their future medical needs.

“There’s been a lack of education [so people know about these schemes],” Ning said, adding

the public should be made to understand the valuable benefits of both.

“To address the problem, it needs the collaboration of insurance industry, government and medical providers.

“We have many examples of [the insurance industry] working either with the government in some markets or with medical providers, but for the three to work together here, there's still room to improve.”

Ning said Hong Kong would do well to learn from the comprehensive medical coverage implemented in Japan, also one of the world’s fastest ageing populations, to ensure the elderly are well protected.

“Its national health system is truly comprehensive, which takes care of at least 80-90 per cent of the public's medical needs,” she said.

“In comparison, Hong Kong’s coverage still has a lot of room to grow.”

In Australia, she added, insurers also go beyond just medical coverage by helping the elderly and their families find a nurse, taking care of home food deliveries and caring for the mental well-being of older people and their carers.

“That’s a variety of services to help the family,” said Ning. “And the patient can deal with any situation.”