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Medical insurance is something you take but hope never to have to use.
WE read of young and healthy people who, without any warning, suffer a heart attack. Closer to home, your child may fall prey to the aedes mosquito and get dengue. Or, you could simply trip and break a leg.
Whatever it is, when the hospital bill comes in, you'll probably suffer another blow when you see how the cost of treatment and medication all add up.
Heng Zee Wang ... know what you want and ask lots of questions.
That is one reason why it is important to have medical insurance.
Some people argue that it is too expensive – you pay so much and get nothing in return. But that's the thing with insurance – you take it in the hope that you won't have to use it. But should you ever do, you will definitely be glad to have had the foresight to sign up for it.
And, the earlier you sign up the better. Premiums are lower if you purchase coverage at a younger age, and when you are still medically fit.
Those who insure themselves when they're older may have to pay higher premiums or be subjected to certain exclusions. And there have been cases of applicants being rejected because of their health.
As for the cost, there are various types of insurance to meet different needs. And you can tailor medical plans according to your budget, says Heng Zee Wang, chief product and marketing officer of Prudential Assurance Malaysia Bhd.
"The cost of hospitalisation is very high, so it's important that you have a medical card. You can have a basic insurance plan that comes with medical card for as low as RM100 a month, so it will cover room and board for that amount."
Before signing on the dotted line, there are some things to take note of.
"You must know what coverage you want and look at what's available. Even if you take a basic plan initially, you can upgrade it as you go along. Look at the terms and conditions, the inclusions and coverage waiting period. This is important to avoid disputes later on," Heng adds.
Some people reason that as long as they are working, their hospital bills will be taken care of by their employer because "my company already provides medical coverage".
What they may not be aware of is that once they leave the company, the cover will terminate. The same regulations apply come retirement. In Malaysia, most private company do not cover employees after they retire from work.
By then it will not be easy to purchase your own medical insurance because of the age factor, and the state of your health. Even if you do sign up for a policy, the premium will probably be higher, and certain illnesses may not be covered.
If you are aware of the benefits of medical insurance but are baffled by the different kinds of plans out there, here are some guidelines from insurance professionals.
To enjoy comprehensive health care protection, ideally you should have:
* A hospitalisation and surgical insurance plan which covers room and board, laboratory fees, use of special facilities, nursing care, and certain medicines and supplies which are medically necessary.
* A critical illness plan. With this, the policy-holder will get a lump sum cash payment from the insurance company if he/she is diagnosed with any of the critical illnesses listed under the policy.
* A hospital income plan that provides income replacement should the insured person be hospitalised due to an accident or illness.
* A disability income plan that covers the policy-holder's day-to-day expenses if he/she is unable to work due to an accident or illness.
How about complaints that "we pay so much for insurance but don't get anything in return"?
Heng says his company has introduced a medical plan which allows the policy-holder to get a no-claims bonus if he/she does not make any claims. It is an indirect way of rewarding customers for staying healthy.
The plan works very much like motor insurance: those who don't submit any claim during a policy year will get a bonus, which is automatically converted into additional units. These units will be invested in investment-linked funds of your choice, thus increasing the value of your policy.
Claims is another issue that is often the bane of many. Heng's advice is to ask the right questions before buying your policy. If you don't, you may encounter problems when it comes to making claims.
Presently, an e-mail is being circulated concerning the case of a woman in Singapore who found herself in a such a predicament. She says she has three policies which cover her for critical illness but has not been able to make any claims because they do not cover ductal carcinomas-in-situ or Stage 0 breast cancer.
What is the fine print that you should read carefully when it comes to a critical illness plan?
Heng explains that typically, this plan excludes medical conditions such as carcinoma-in-situ (or early stage cancer, where the cancerous cells have not moved out of the area of the body where they originally developed).
In Singapore, each of the critical illnesses stated in a policy contract follows a set of definitions given by the Life Insurance Association of Singapore. These standard definitions apply to the critical illness policies offered by life insurance companies in the country.
Insurance companies here follow definitions laid down by the Life Insurance Association of Malaysia (LIAM).
However, Heng adds, it is possible for the policy-holder who has been diagnosed with carcinoma-in-situ to claim for the cost of treatment for her condition, provided she has an existing medical plan. This may include expenses for her hospitalisation, surgery and post-hospitalisation treatment.
There are also certain insurance plans in the market which provide payouts for early stages of cancer.
So, it is vital to ask questions and know what you need. And be prepared to review your policy as your needs grow. One hopes never to have to turn to medical insurance, but it certainly is reassuring to know there is a security blanket at hand should the need ever arise.
WHAT to do when buying medical insurance:
1) Understand what your needs are and how much you can put aside regularly. Seek your agent's advice before choosing a plan that suits you best.
2) Understand what the terms and conditions are, as well as the scope of cover provided under the policy. What are the benefits? What is NOT covered? How long is the coverage for? What is the waiting period? What is the limit (both annual and lifetime) you can claim?
3) Is there any co-insurance? Co-insurance is a cost-sharing arrangement between the insurer and policyholder. For example, co-insurance on a 10/90 basis means the policyholder will pay 10% of the bill, and the insurer will pay the balance, subject to the terms and conditions of the policy.
4) Will the premium remain the same amount throughout the duration of the policy, or will it increase according to age?
5) It is important to disclose details of your or your family's medical history (if any) at the time of purchase, to avoid any dispute in the future.
6) Take time to talk to your agent about the claims procedure, so you are aware of what's involved.
7) All insurance companies offer a 15-day free look. If you do not find the policy suitable and return it within that period, you are entitled to a refund of the premium paid (subject to terms and conditions).
8) Review your medical insurance plan at least once a year. This is important, especially with the cost of health care outpacing inflation. Chances are the plan you bought some years back may not be enough to meet future needs. Upgrade if you can afford it, so you will have the financial resources to meet rising medical costs, particularly after retirement.