Dr Ang Peng Tiam is a well known oncology and currently a medical director of Parkway Cancer Center. Recently he wrote about how some of his patients have to cease cancer treatment because they are unable to afford the medical fees. You can read the article here published by Straits Times’s Mind Your Body 20 January 2011 - Don't let health costs cost you your life
In that article he said that “Medical bills are not just a matter for public officials, who set health policies, and the patient, who has to decide on his finances. Doctors, too, have a role to play in advising their patients to go for screening and be adequately insure.”
For himself, he said that “Seeing how health-care costs, especially the cost of cancer treatment, have escalated in recent years, I am beginning to see why it is important to re-examine my insurance coverage. I have arranged to meet an insurance agent to review my health-care needs. Perhaps it is time for you to do the same.”
I did a search for his articles and I uncovered another article written way back in 9 October 2008 in which he encourages people to insure themselves with suitable policies: Ensure you're insured. In this 2008 article, he wrote how some of his patients have to deliberately delay their chemotherapy appointments because of insufficient coverage from their Medishield.
I have a few comments on the matters.
First, (ok I am going to be a bit cheeky here), Dr. Ang did not get himself a suitable insurance until 2011 despite acknowledging the importance in 2008. He is not the only one. I have met countless clients who despite knowing the importance of insurance but delay getting it because of procrastination. Sometime, the thought of wanting to meet an insurance agent can be a big obstacle because you could end up buying an unsuitable product such as a toxic waste ILP instead of medical insurance. But I can understand the shoes of the insurance agent because a medical insurance such as a medisave-approved shield plan earns negative commission. In the industry, selling just a medisave-approved shield plan is like stepping on a big pile of S**T in which the adviser cannot wash it away because of the need to service the client forever despite eating S**T everyday. On a personal note, I really felt I ate a big piece of S**T whenever the client just buys a shield plan. Yet it cannot be denied that this piece of S**T is the most important.
Second, Dr. Ang felt that doctors have a role to advice their patients to get adequate insurance coverage. In practice, it is almost too late to buy insurance when an individual sees a doctor. Usually a person sees a doctor when he or she is sick. This means that the patient is already uninsurable. Thus, in my view, the number #1 responsibility to get adequate coverage is the individual himself.
Third, I was in SGH yesterday when I heard two doctors in the lift talking to each other about Dr. Ang Peng Tiam’s article on getting insurance to cover chemotherapy. They were puzzled how the insurance can cover such treatment. It is not surprising that many medical professionals are as clueless as the man-in-the-street. Thus, seeking professional financial adviser is importance regardless of one’s education and profession.
Fourth, one of my close family member was diagnosed with colon cancer a week ago. The surgical and hospital bill was a big shocker. Despite it is a B1 government ward, it would not have been affordable for many average Singaporeans. I checked the MOH website for statistics on colon cancer and I cannot find the average bill size of it. Now I know why. Fortunately when I entered the industry years ago, I force all my immediate family members to buy insurance from me. Yes, I “forced them” as I did not give them any choice since I will become the default insurer if they become seriously ill without coverage. I am very proud of what I did. The hefty medical bill is going to be mostly reimbursed from the insurer. The existence of insurance coverage was the ONLY determining factor whether should the colon cancer be treated or not. In other words, without the policy, the bill will be too high to afford it.
To think about it, the insurance agent is a life saver. It is a noble professional occupation now equivalent to a medical professional. Without the insurance, the medical professional has no chance to treat these patients. Insurers themselves may have champion products but without these insurance agents, no customer will know of its existence. There are also many useless insurance products in the marketplace. Consumers need the help of financial practitioners to help select the appropriate product.
Unfortunately, many insurance agents look down on themselves by selling products that are not insurance at all. They also join the wrong firm/agencies which pressure them to sell useless but high commission products. Some of these firm/agencies discourage them from selling shield plan and term insurance because these bring in negative commission. Instead of trying to think out of the box, these agencies/firm are narrow minded with little creatively juice force its advisers to sell high commission product instead.
Many consumers are also to be blamed for the cow-boy financial industry here in Singapore. The mentality of expecting the adviser to work for free and to be call upon like a slave results in the financial industry to develop advanced selling techniques. Thus, consumers end up buying rubbish products because they thought they can get advice for free. Free? Really? I also want to point out that many consumers have no respect for insurance agents. Naturally insurance agents will not respect their clients as each client will be viewed as another cash-cow to be milked. May I appeal to all consumers that if you do not respect your agent, be prepared to be sentence to death because of not having the appropriate insurance cover. The question is this, what is meant by ‘disrespect’? Asking the adviser to come to the house (venue) and meet at Mcdonald are considered disrespect. Only a vacuum salesman will come to the house to demonstrate the vacuum cleaner. Since discussion over medisave-approved shield plan financial matter at public place such as McDonald is impossible (it is not safe to disclose you have $100,000 in public), the adviser is expected to peddler products without the privilege of understanding the client’s financial situation. Meeting at 8pm or over weekend shows disrespect to the advisers’ work-life balance. Since the consumer has no regard to the adviser’s need to spent time with their family, they can be assured that the adviser will end up with a disastrous family situation.
For me, I will charge an administrative fee of $800 (excluding advisory fee) for transacting shield plan by itself. Since a shield plan hardly earns any commission, no commission can offset the administrative fee. Shield plan is no longer a SHIT insurance to be eaten by the adviser. It is okay that other advisers are not charging any administrative fee. Naïve consumers can buy from them because by law of economics, ethical advisers who just sell low cost but effective insurance like shield plans and term insurance will not be in the industry for long. So what’s left in the industry are advisers who will sell toxic products to make up for the negative shield commission. In fact, what is really left in the industry are mostly toxic asset peddlers.
This article also appeared in CPF Board's IMSavvy Blog Corner:http://www.cpf.gov.sg/imsavvy/blog_post.asp?postid=410028623-197-8008691667
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