Mar 5, 2011

Notes from a H1N1 Survivor

February wasn't a great month for me. I fell ill shortly after Chinese New Year and had the worst flu of my life. It was probably the H1N1 virus which is still running amok in Singapore.

After the fever, the sore throat, the body aches and the runny nose were all over, I was left with a lingering cough that transformed itself into bronchitis. I've been coughing and wheezing and having difficulty breathing. I've been coughing so much that my ribcage is hurting.

In the past few weeks, I had gone twice to see the same doctor, who had prescribed cough mixture, Salbutamol, a course of steroids and a course of antibiotics. None of these worked, and today I went to see another doctor. This doctor gave me six kinds of medicines, including three types of sprays. This is the first time in my life I'm using sprays. I think that they are supposed to be very effective, so I'm pleased.

My medical bill was $175. That's a rather big bill for treating a cough, albeit a bad one. I'm glad that I work for an employer which pays fully for all such medical expenses.

I'll take a moment here to discuss medical benefits for employees. It's my perception that in Singapore, foreign MNCs are generally much more generous than local companies, about granting medical benefits to employees. By local companies, I mean the likes of, say, SIA, DBS, Keppel, CDL, SMRT and so on. I don't know whether my perception is correct, so I invite my readers to comment and share their experiences.

I'm working for a European bank which will pretty much pay for 100% of my outpatient medical expenses, and those of my wife and children. It doesn't matter whether I see a general practitioner or a specialist. I am also free to choose any clinic I like (in other words, I don't have to go to a pre-approved list of panel doctors).

My employer will also cover the medical expenses of an employee's partner, regardless of whether they are married or not. As a matter of fact, my employer will cover the medical expenses of the employee's gay partner. Also, if I remember correctly, my employer will cover the medical expenses of your illegitimate children (but I think that there are some rules on the maximum number of illegitimate children permissible).

I can't see the likes of SIA or DBS offering such benefits. Nor the Civil Service, that's for sure. What about you?

The HR policies of European MNCs in Singapore are influenced by their headquarters back in Europe, where they actually have, you know, human rights. Generally, it isn't considered proper to discriminate against an employee because of reasons such as his race, age, religion, gender, marital status or sexual orientation.

But that's in Europe. Not Singapore.


EC said...

alas the government would want you to believe that this is going the slippery slope to becoming a welfare state and supposedly inculcating a crutch mentality...

Anonymous said...

Is true. Before, when I was at a medium sized firm with European management, they pay 100% of my medical bills. In a GLC firm, I have to co-pay. In my opinion, local firms have poor human resource practices. Don't believe for a second when they claim to have won some Best Employer awards and such rubbish.

Anonymous said...

As a manager with a mid size local law firm, the max we can claim is S$35 for outpatient medical bill. no dental no health screening benefits... of cos they wont cover spouse and children medical expenses.

Ellis said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I work for a local SME (around 100 employees).

They pay for all outpatient bills (including spouses and children only) subject to a cap of a few hundred dollars (amount depending on job seniority) per year.

They also have hospitalisation insurance for employees so if bills are below say $15K, the employee do not pay anything, as even Medisave used will be refunded.

Actually if I were a boss, I don't mind giving good medical benefits to staff. As long as company make good profits and such costs are a fraction of total operating costs.

Because such benefits can do wonders to staff morale and commitment and these can far outweigh the cost of it.

Just like budget goodies can do wonders to the incumbent ruling party when delivered close to election time.

As for those companies which do not have good medical benefits, maybe one has to see things in totality. Maybe they pay their employees way above average? Or give good bonuses? These will more than make up for the shortfall in medical benefits, for which healthy employees may not really need it that much. Whereas bonuses and good pay, everybody needs and welcomes it!

Fox said...

The civil service and stat boards offers similar benefits in that your kids are covered as dependents. My father worked for a stat board for over 30 years and his medical insurance covered my visits to a private GP.

I'm not sure if this is still the case but, unlike a male employee, the dependents of a married woman were not covered in the civil service and stat boards.

Anonymous said...

some stat boards limit outpatient claims to $10 and it must be from a list of pre-approved clinic.
they will give you an additional one percent contribution to your medisave. this is for you to purchase your own medical insurance.

stat boards employees do not get the same benefits as civil servants

Anonymous said...

I know that one of the research institutes under AStar does not offer maternity leave unless the woman is married to the father of the child.

Anonymous said...

Actually it is not so much the company or whether they are local or MNCs. I once worked for an MNC and medical benefits were extended to my spouse. I remembered clearly though this was in 1989 because the HR Director who hired me told me that he is appointing me one grade higher than the position I was applying for so that my spouse and children could enjoy the medical benefits.
Likewise, our ministers and their spouses and children definitely can enjoy free medical coverages, maybe even when they have retired. I recall our health minister paying only 8 dollars for a complicated heart surgery. Even if you are 90 years old and retired, if you are senior enough, everything is free, even if you need to travel on a jumbo jet to a hospital of your choice. So it is seniority, and not whether you work for a foreign company or a local one, that matters.

Anonymous said...

"Even if you are 90 years old and retired, if you are senior enough, everything is free, even if you need to travel on a jumbo jet to a hospital of your choice."
Anon 12:30 AM

This happens only in one of a few million people. As good as the chance to win 1st prize in Big Sweep.

So don't use such examples as they are only fantasy and dream for 99.999% of people.

Anonymous said...

I work in SIA. We have a co-payment scheme that pays only for my medicals. None for my spouse.

Anonymous said...

"I work in SIA. We have a co-payment scheme that pays only for my medicals. None for my spouse."
Anon 10:22 AM

But do they give free air tickets? Or good bonuses, eg 3 or 4 months?

aliendoc said...

I am curious...what would you consider a reasonable price to pay (medicine + consultation fee) if not $175...?

Anonymous said...

"Even if you are 90 years old and retired, if you are senior enough, everything is free, even if you need to travel on a jumbo jet to a hospital of your choice."
Anon 12:30 AM
This happens only in one of a few million people. As good as the chance to win 1st prize in Big Sweep. "

Actually this only happened once in the entire history of mankind, and in the entire population of mankind. But this is a fact, it did happened. And it happened here in Singapore. That is why this example is used here.

blacktag said...

For the record, American organizations don't generally have the generous benefits of European organizations.

But I don't quite understand Mr. Wang's point. Personally, I would rather work in an profitable organization with fewer health benefits, more co-payment and corresponding more take-home pay/bonuses for me to purchase my own portable health insurance and healthcare adjusted for myself.

But Anonymous @4.04pm put things quite well. Benefits can win loyalty; but good bonuses, ah, everyone likes that!

mr wang said...

Portable health insurance - my employer has that too. You keep the policy when you leave, and you pay the premiums yourself.

If as an employee, you don't want to have such insurance (eg because you already have your own) or you are not eligible (eg you have a serious pre-existing medical illness),

then the company sets aside the money (that it would have paid in insurance premiums) for you, every year. You can claim for optician expenses; children's enrichment classes; nutritional supplements; non-standard medical treatment (eg traditional chinese medicine); gym membership; and holiday expenses.

The amount of money set aside for you does not depend on your seniority. It depends on your number of dependents. For each dependent you have, you get more money.

Anonymous said...

@"My medical bill was $175. That's a rather big bill for treating a cough, albeit a bad one"

I've had similar experiences. Your medicines may be the proprietary types still enjoying patent protection, eg an anti-biotic pill probably costs $3 - $4 a pill, and you'll probably need 7 - 10, or more. The steroid sprays for the lung inflammation etc probably $20+ a bottle,if liquid type; or $60+ a bottle if powdered type.

But they worked for me, and I hope they'll work for you.

Although costly, but when one cannot sleep because of coughing, it's good that such options are at least available.

Luckily I could still cough up (sorry!) the cash then... Not quite the same situation at present.

Anonymous said...

to anon 12:30
to correct the perception of the minister paying only $8, actually that's because he bought pte hospitalisation insurance, where most of the bill is covered after co-pay.
With the high cost of medical bill here, it is wise to buy hospitalisation insurance.

In a stat board example, the company co-pay 85% up to max of $10/visit to a panel of clinic. One need not pay on the spot, it will be deducted from salary. If you visit one not in the panel, one has to pay first and then claim. For specialist in govt or pte, it is not claimable. This applies to legal spouse and dependants.

As for hospitalisation, there is no subsidy. One is suppose to buy insurance by yourself from the 1% contribution to your salary. But most ppl do not plan their insurance needs and do not buy till too late, then you are on your own.

There is co-pay 50% for dental bill up to max $100/yr.

The benefits pales in comparison to European MNC. But wonder is that at any expense?

lobo76 said...

I work for a local MNC... that is MNC because it has offices in a few other countries. local becoz it is still a private business. Size is about 200 pple, maybe 300 if all overseas pple are factored in.

I've got dental of $100 a year, and unlimited outpatient, limited to $30 per visit to a list of clinic (good size of clinics), and not including 'cosmetic' visits. i.e lasik. There is hospitalization benefits as well, but I have no idea how much that is, having never had the opportunity to use it.

so far, the clinic nearest to my home is very cheap. Haven't passed the $30 mark yet for my visits for cough/flu.

For a $175 visit, I would expect it to be one of those 24 hrs clinics which usually charge a premium.

Lucky Tan said...

I have this choking cough and produce bucketful of phlegm..can hardly breathe. Doctors gave me a very high does of steriods to quell the inflamation. After that was able to breathe better.

Went to SATA for an X-ray in case of TB. It has been bad but I did not run a fever throughout. ...3 weeks now I can feel some recovery but a bit slow.

Eaststopper said...

I think it is a difference in perception regarding healthcare. In Europe and the US, it is considered your rights to have access to free healthcare provided by your employer/state. In Asia, it is considered a privilege.
Both have their pros/cons. Consider the deficit run up in Europe and US due to the healthcare/pension benefits.

Cynical Investor said...

Was feeling miserable as had very bad cold since late Jan, and although the worse is over feeling very weak.

So was cheered up no end (typical S'porean)that Wang and Lucky had it worse.

But they in turn can be happy that they not using wordpress.

Since last friday, cannot post. Told by wordpress I'm collateral damage in cyber wars. sigh

Ngiam Shih Tung said...

Uh.. isn't a rather obvious reason why most companies won't provide 100% medical coverage is that $175 is equal to 2 days wages of a typical technician or clerk but only 1 hour of Mr Wang's time ? Mr Wang's bosses lost more just in the time it took him to go to the clinic than they did in paying his medical bill. Now as to whether bank lawyers actually create more societal value than a cleaner, that's another question....

Unless European bank employees are on average sicker than those in local companies, medical costs will on average be similar. But since salaries in Mr Wang's company are so much higher, the medical benefits as a proportion of total remuneration will be smaller. In any case, for 90% of people, almost all their medical expenditure will take place after they retire. So, unless their employer provides post-retirement benefits, generous employer coverage while working won't get them very far.

Mr Wang said...

1. If my secretary had a $175 bill, the company would pay it too.

2. The bank just covered the hospitalization and surgery for one of my colleagues' husband (gall stone problem). Cost was $32,000.

3. Another colleague had emergency brain surgery at Mount Elizabeth and stayed in hospital for weeks. My employer paid for a big part of that as well.

4. Some years ago, my daughter was hospitalized for salmonella. Again my employer covered most of it.

Anonymous said...

It all depands on the HR. For MNC with strong overseas HR, usually 100% coverage.

It is the local HR that spoil the market, by limiting the amount an employee is allowed to claim.

Most local HR will do this to show the big boss, how much they can save on operating cost, but they have forgotten their objectives are to take care of the employees and motive them.

Most of the time it is we Singaporean has to blame - spoil the market. Work long hours (cheaper), low benefit (better) and multi-task (faster).

Anonymous said...

I work for a foreign company too. However, being a brokerage firm, I am hired by my boss & salary paid by him not by the firm. He only gaves me SGD100 extra monthly on top of whatever salary I am getting as my medical expenses. I don't complain mainly because I take care of my own health like exercise, watch my diet, take supplements like Vitamin C during flu season and so far haven't taken any sick leave yet. I had been working here for 1 year, but looking out for opportunities to work (also in the financial sector) in another foreign institutions and hopefully I will get better benefits and incentives as age is catching up on me and I may not remain healthy in the future.

Anonymous said...

well, working in a GLC HR dept, profit is always the key word and they're always trying to cut costs. medical coverage is an expensive long-term cost and usually irreversible.

hence, any excess "benefit" that company earns will be distributed always in performance-linked bonus. thats the way it is i suppose

Anonymous said...

Microsoft have good benefits too. They not only cover your dependents and also your spouse gay or straight. I agree foreign MNCs (not all) do treat their employees better.