Do you still remember what your parents told you in your younger days? Typically, it goes something like this: "Study hard, get a good job, get married, buy a house, have kids, then happily retire."
There's no doubt that Singaporeans are a hardworking bunch. Most subscribe to the belief of "work hard, play hard" to strike a balance between work and leisure. Some, however, prefer to "work harder and play harder".
Excessively stressful lifestyles, overindulging in food (with eating being cheekily dubbed as a national pastime), and too much drinking and smoking are the leading causes of four major illnesses afflicting Singaporeans, namely cancer, stroke, diabetes, and hypertension.
Illness can strike anyone, at any time
An art consultant in hospitality design, Sally Lim epitomises the typical Singaporean worker who spent much time and effort establishing her reputation in the industry. However, this came at the expense of her health. Just two days before her tenth wedding anniversary, she was diagnosed with stage three nose cancer.
Sally has since recovered and is now cancer-free, but her story is one that could very well happen to each and every one of us. Illness doesn't discriminate. So, what can we do about it?
Build a foundation with adequate healthcare coverage
The most basic step involves getting adequate healthcare coverage – something that provides at least some respite from hospital and medical bills, so that you are able to afford proper and timely treatment if the situation calls for it.
As a basic, universal hospitalisation plan, MediShield Life offers lifetime protection and enhanced payouts for everyone, regardless of your age, or whether you have pre-existing conditions.
MediShield Life protects you against large hospital bills, as well as selected costly outpatient treatments such as dialysis and chemotherapy. At the very least, this ensures that a significant portion of the bills is taken care of. This way, your Medisave (which is used to pay your MediShield Life premiums) provides a huge relief from financial stress, allowing you to focus on recovery instead.
Essentially, MediShield Life provides a stable foundation for you to build on. You also have the option to purchase additional coverage provided by private insurers at a higher cost to suit your individual needs, which may change with your lifestyle and age. This handy guide to Integrated Shield Plans may help you navigate the options available.
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Get coverage beyond just health insurance
For many, health insurance is the first – and only – thing that comes to mind when healthcare coverage is mentioned. However, you should not neglect the other types of coverage that also have a significant role in reducing your financial burden in times of illness.
Did you know that about one in two Singaporeans who are healthy at age 65 is at risk of becoming severely disabled over their lifetime?
Severe disability can be a particularly distressing situation if you or your family is unprepared, as care and financing arrangements may be challenging to work out.
Therefore, it's important thing for you to plan early for the possibility of becoming severely disabled and physically unable to provide basic care for yourself when you are older.
Fortunately, from 2002 onwards, all Singaporeans are automatically enrolled in ElderShield when they reach the age of 40. ElderShield is a severe disability insurance scheme that aims to provide basic financial protection to Singaporeans who need long-term care, especially in old age. It provides a monthly monetary payout to alleviate the costs of long-term care services like home care and nursing home care.
You should also be thinking about coverage for your home, especially if you have dependants or loved ones relying on you to provide a roof over their heads.
If you have financed your housing loan with your CPF savings, you will be heartened to know that your house is automatically included under the Home Protection Scheme (HPS). This provides a safeguard for you and your family in the event of death, terminal illness, or total permanent disability, where your outstanding loan will be paid for the sum insured. HPS does not cover private properties, so if you own one, you should consider getting a similar mortgage-reducing insurance.
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Likewise, there is the Dependants' Protection Scheme (DPS), which provides financial relief to dependants in the event of death, terminal illness, or total permanent disability. Although the money might not compensate for the emotional burden caused by an illness, it will provide some relief from financial worry.
Speak to someone if you need financial aid
Serious illness, especially over a long period of time, can be especially distressing for patients and their families. You do not have to carry your burden alone – help is available.
If you are at a hospital or healthcare institution, speak to a Medical Social Worker or financial counselor, who will help to assess your circumstances and provide assistance and support as required.
There's also Medifund, a safety net for patients who face difficulties with their remaining bills after utilising Government subsidies and drawing on other means of payments such as insurance, Medisave and cash.
Seek social, emotional and mental support
Financial and practical considerations aside, there is a human element to illness that you cannot ignore. Social, emotional and mental support will make a huge difference in helping you to manage illness and recovery, especially in the case of a severe, terminal, or long-term illness.
Elderly persons with care needs can tap on a range of long-term care services. These include home-based and centre-based care which are available within the community, enabling those in need to receive services in a familiar environment close to their homes. The Medisave account can be used to help support the bills during this stage of recovery as well.
Emotional and mental support, such as through counseling, is also key to ensuring that everyone involved – patients and caregivers alike – is mentally and psychologically-prepared to cope with an illness.
There are several services available that caregivers in particular can benefit from, such as respite care services, which give caregivers a few hours off during the weekend. For a longer break of several days to a few weeks, there's the Nursing Home Respite Care Programme. Additionally, the Caregivers' Training Grant provides subsidies of up to $200 each year on training courses to enable them to provide better care.
Last but not least, the unpredictable nature of illness also means that you should plan ahead for decisions regarding your estate. Rather than viewing it in a negative light, think of it as an opportunity to ensure your loved ones' well-being. You can start your legacy planning by making a CPF nomination, which enables you to choose how you wish to distribute your CPF funds.
Do this with your CPF before it's too late
Prevention is better than cure
Of course, prevention is always better than the cure – taking the effort to lead a healthier lifestyle and changing your unhealthy habits for the better are well-known ways of reducing the chances of falling ill in the first place.
Prevention, in the form of actively protecting oneself against illness that may strike anytime without notice, is also better than trying to cure a lack of financial, mental, and emotional resources in the event of an illness.
Going for appropriate screening to detect chronic diseases early, and following up with your doctor regularly, are both important – in fact, there are subsidies available for certain screenings and scans for this purpose as well.
*^ Read here for more information.
For best results, do both. Embark on a healthier lifestyle, while simultaneously strengthening your financial and emotional resources adequately, and you can confidently face the future knowing that you and your loved ones are prepared for life's uncertainties.
Writer's Profile: Matthew Tan is a storyteller with a proclivity towards the fantastic. He enjoys playing video games and is currently building the lore of a fantasy world, hoping others would one day partake in adventuring majestic landscapes and slaying awesome creatures.
Information accurate as at 29 November 2016