Current payouts often not enough to cover ward, treatment costs
PARENTS using in-vitro fertilization (IVF) techniques to conceive could soon have higher insurance coverage for their babies than the maximum payout of $300 a day they now enjoy. The Ministry for Health (MOH) has called a tender to increase the insurance payouts for babies conceived through IVF. This is because these current payouts are often not enough to cover treatment, especially for those in private hospitals.
Since 1992, it has been compulsory for couples going for IVF to buy such insurance for their baby, in case the infant needs more than normal care in the first six months of life. The premiums parents pay vary with the number of embryos the woman is impregnated with. They range from an almost nominal $60 for one embryo, to more than $2,330 when four embryos are transferred.
The risks of problems increase significantly as more embryos are transferred, hence the difference in premiums. The insurer currently pays $100 a day should the baby require high dependency care and $300 a day for intensive care following birth. Payment ceases 180 days from birth. While this might be enough to cover the cost of subsidised care at KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital, it is below even what the hospital charges private patients.
A baby in A class needing Special Care Nursery treatment is charged $387 per day. One who needs Neonatal Intensive Care has to stump up $585 a day in A class. The cost for a baby in a subsidised ward is $88 and $175 a day for the respective levels of care. The amount of payout from the insurance company is based on each baby needing such care. So a woman who gives birth to triplets who all require intensive care would receive $900 a day for this.
Last year, of 985 IVF babies born, there were seven sets of triplets and 193 pairs of twins. Only 578 were single births. An MOH spokesman said the payout rate had not changed in more than 15 years and so “it is timely to review the benefits to ensure coverage remains adequate and relevant for the policyholders”. Between July 2001 and September 2008, 629 IVF babies had needed such intensive care, she said. The highest payout amounted to $50,000.
MOH was not able to say if any of the babies required intensive or high dependency care beyond the 180 days covered by the insurance. But the spokesman added that the aim of the insurance is to protect such couples “against financial risk of costly neonatal care”. There is no such insurance for parents who conceive naturally, although they too could have babies born premature or with other problems that require expensive neonatal care.
Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan told The Straits Times: “I support insuring against the financial risk of extended neonatal care for newborns.” MOH is “weighing the options” of different ways to achieve this, such as using MediShield to provide such cover, or having a separate scheme just for pregnant women, he said. Whether the premiums will go up when the tender, which will close on Dec 13, is awarded will depend on the bids received.
Teacher Jerome Lim, 34, wishes he had been able to buy insurance before his daughter, now one, was born. She had contracted pneumonia when she was a day old, and her seven days in intensive care at Thomson Medical Centre set him back more than $13,000. Even with Medisave, his out-ofpocket expenses came to over $8,000.