Now that Medishield Life has been shored up, it’s about time the Eldershield plays catch up. The Eldershield scheme, introduced back in 2002, was one of the big topics of discussion touched on by Prime Minister Lee during the recent National Day Rally speech.

Of course, one other big topic of discussion was how he made a triumphant comeback to the stage to complete his segment, despite suffering from a fainting spell that forced the rally into a time-out. Almost symbolically, that got us pondering over the state of our health and whether our insurance coverages are indeed sufficient. While our dear Prime Minister is, thankfully, declared OK after a late night check-up at Singapore General Hospital, it should serve as a reminder that afflictions, accidents and ailments can strike anytime, anywhere. It doesn’t even have to be in old age.   

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What’s Eldershield?

“Eldershield? I’m not an elderly yet so I can worry about it later, right?” Wrong. You’re not an elf who can live a thousand years, nor are you always young and invincible. It’s better to familiarise with it now rather than later.

While Medishield is a compulsory healthcare scheme that leaves no man and woman behind, Eldershield is a CPF-backed severe disability insurance scheme that you can choose to opt out of. You don’t have to do anything; you’ll be automatically included in the scheme once you hit your big 4-0. The premiums are payable via Medisave. In the event of a tragedy that leaves you unable to perform everyday tasks (e.g. washing, dressing, feeding, going to the bathroom and moving around), you’ll receive between $300 and $400 per month.

By now, your alarm bells should be ringing a little bit. A basic opt-in insurance scheme like that, surely it comes with limitations. Why else would the government be tasking the Ministry of Health (MOH) to set up a Eldershield review committee? As stated by Prime Minister Lee, Eldershield is "one remaining piece to strengthen". Because there is an option to get out of the disability scheme, not everyone is covered by it. Moreover, it only lasts all of 72 months. Is that even long enough for people with severe disabilities to cope with their lifestyles?

We’re not soothsayers and we certainly don’t have a crystal ball to predict if you’ll be a fit-as-a-fiddle centenarian. What we can do is drop this nugget of wisdom: get your health insurance portfolio down pat as early as possible.

Why Get Insured Early?

Eldershield might be waiting for you at the 40-year-old mark, but disabilities don’t. If it comes, it comes. It doesn’t discriminate against the elderly. Moral of the story? Start looking to plug the gaps in your insurance portfolio.

Do you have additional coverage on top of your main whole life or term plan? Have you gotten an integrated shield plan to bolster what Medishield Life is already offering? What about things like critical illness and personal accident? And of course, have you given any thought to disability? In the National Day Rally, Prime Minister Lee busted out some worrying statistics: one in two persons will suffer from long-term disability. You could do with more than just that few hundred bucks payout.

There are so many more pros than cons (the only one we can think of is budgeting issues, but that can easily be resolved) to an early start. If buying your insurance policies has taught you anything, the premiums are lower the younger you are, saving you a tidy sum in the long run. Speaking of which, let’s do something about that budget headache. We know all too well about broke university students, unemployed fresh grads and working adults who might prioritise debt over insurance. Well, the good news is, it’s not impossible to still handle your insurance coverage like a pro.

How Can I Go About Doing It?

Assuming you already have an existing whole life or term plan, simply attach a rider to fortify one area you’re sorely lacking. The annual premiums are minimal. For example, look at Great Eastern’s LifeSecure disability plan, which goes for as low as S$154.50 per year. You just need to sacrifice a couple of nights out at Zouk or eat at home more often. Unlike Eldershield, it pays you every month for life.

If you’re 19, fresh out of National Service and really, really hard up, try a two-in-one package for a start. Like Prudential’s PruflexiCash endowment plan. The payouts may be mediocre compared to private disability specialised insurance plans, but at least you get to squirrel away forced savings (hey, you can pay off your university student loan in 10 years’ time!) while enjoying some coverage. When your cash flow improves, you can always upgrade to an additional standalone or rider that gives a much more substantial payout, albeit at a higher premium. Prudential also has an early stage disability plan, which will pay out a monthly sum even before the condition deteriorates further into a full blown crisis. Ironically, if you want ample shield from the stats Prime Minister Lee mentioned, you might have to look beyond Eldershield and scout the ones from private insurers.  

Here’s one last bit for those are already past forty and keen on upgrading after watching the rally. Aviva, one of the three private insurers appointed to manage Eldershield, can help you pile on the disability benefits past the 72-month coverage period and the S$300-S$400 payout amount if you sign up for the MyCare plan. You can say it’s never too late now, but it still pays to get your own head start before the Ministry of Health even starts to zhng the Eldershield.

Unless you’re so confident you can make an amazing recovery like our Prime Minister, Eldershield (and your other health insurance for the matter) should be given as much a damn as Medishield Life.