Big chase to sell health plans

Top News | Jane Cheung 2 Apr 2019

Insurance firms scrambled for buyers of Voluntary Health Insurance Scheme plans as sales started yesterday.

At least four were hosting press briefings to introduce plans, but people were being reminded coverage could vary.

Government officials hope up to 1.5 million people will buy insurance over the next three years.

Details of the scheme were revealed on Friday, with the premium for standard plans an average HK$4,000 annually against an earlier estimate of HK$4,800.

Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan Siu-chee has said the drop in the average premium was due to competition, with 25 insurers chasing customers.

The 25 -with 86 percent of existing market coverage - are offering 38 plans. These include 25 standard plans, which offer basic protection such as a maximum claim of HK$750 for a hospital room and food per day, and 13 "flexi plans" with higher benefit limits and broader coverage.

Selina Lau Pui-ling, communications and committee general manager of the Hong Kong Federation of Insurers, said the coverage of standard plans is 90 percent similar among service providers, but some offer payments for death and funeral costs.

On flexi plans, which provide more coverage and higher claim amounts, Lau said people should do some research and compare prices before settling on a company for a plan.

"For people who have already purchased medical insurance, they can also choose to switch plans to ones under the scheme to enjoy a tax deduction," Lau said.

A person joining the scheme qualifies for a tax deduction of up to HK$8,000 a year.

Wilton Kee Wing-tao, chief product officer for individual financial plans at Manulife, said his company offers one of the cheapest standard plans among large insurers.

"I believe we'll appeal to customers as under the scheme the pricing between different companies is listed in a transparent manner," he said. "That makes comparison very easy."

On increases in future, Kee said any adjustment would be subject to Manulife's claims experience and medical costs. In any event, he added, it would not be hiked because of the state of someone's health.

But Tim Pang Hung-cheung, an organizer for the Society for Community Organization, said medical costs in the private market have risen significantly.

Some private hospitals have boosted prices by up to 60 percent, he said, but the insured amount has not been adjusted.

"It wouldn't help even if the premium is cheap because the insured amount does not cover much of the hospital fees," he said. "So people living in poverty cannot benefit."

Editorial: Here's to healthy numbers all around

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