Hong Kong’s pursuit of zero-COVID is incentivising expatriates to flee the city, with many heading to Singapore. While moving to any new country is a massive upheaval, expats moving to Singapore face a number of particularly acute challenges, not least of which is navigating a new healthcare system.
These expats must be aware of their international health insurance policies, whether their area of cover extends to Singapore, and open to adjusting their policies in order to meet the changing need.
This article was first published on ITIJ.com.
It’s hard to say exactly how many expats are swapping Hong Kong for Singapore. However, several statistics highlight what is becoming a fast-growing trend. For instance, the Singaporean tourism board has reported that the number of visitors arriving from Hong Kong almost doubled between January and March 2022.
This influx comes even at a time when the Singaporean government has tightened the criteria for businesses choosing to hire workers from abroad.
While new arrivals from Hong Kong are helping to fill skills gaps in both blue-collar and white-collar industries, the surge in migration is not all good news for Singapore. The country already has one of the most rapidly ageing populations in the world, with one in four people in Singapore expected to be aged 65 or over by 2030.
Inbound Hong-Kongers are likely to place additional strain on Singapore’s healthcare sector, as they bring with them an increased demand for treatment of chronic diseases such as diabetes, stroke and heart disease, as well as the day-to-day care of older people who have multiple and complex healthcare needs.
In order to meet this challenge, and ensure services remain affordable and accessible, the Singaporean Government is delivering a range of major initiatives including building new hospitals and nursing homes, allocating resources to community and primary healthcare, and implementing action plans for healthy ageing.
Singapore’s healthcare system currently ranks as one of, and often indeed, the best in the world. Earlier this year, we placed Singapore in the top 10 countries for healthcare, which was based on a variety of factors including quality of care, model of financing, and average cost per individual. While inbound Hong-Kongers are just one piece of the complex puzzle that is Singapore’s increasingly-strained healthcare system, the litmus test will be to see whether Singapore’s healthcare sector can hang on to this high reputation during this period of growing pressure.
The impact will be felt not only in Singapore’s public healthcare system, but in its private sector too. Singapore operates a universal healthcare system financed by public statutory insurance and subsidised by the government. However, many of Singapore’s 1.6 million expats (29% of the total population) are not eligible for state healthcare in Singapore, particularly if they do not have Permanent Resident status and pay into a Central Provident Fund. Many are therefore obliged to rely on private healthcare supported by private medical insurance.
Expats who took out private medical insurance in Hong Kong will need to consult with their providers to ensure Singapore is included in their area of cover. If it is not, providers will need to assist these expats in arranging new policies fit for life in Singapore. This may incur higher premiums, especially as some expats will find that the level of cover they chose in Hong Kong does not meet the needs of the Singaporean market.
It will also be useful for these expats to know that international prescriptions are not always accepted in Singapore. Patients will need to get a valid prescription for existing medications from a local doctor after arrival, while ensuring they bring an adequate supply of medication to last them until they have their prescriptions renewed.
Expats may also want to check that their private medical insurance extends to neighbouring Malaysia and Indonesia, as travel between these regions is frequent.
Singapore’s healthcare system is already under pressure, so an increased number of expats could add to that pressure. With a wave of new expats arriving from Hong Kong, there is a risk these hospitals may start to be overwhelmed.
At the moment, the quality of private healthcare in Singapore is exceptional, with a greater number of private medical facilities versus public hospitals, a high number of private medical practioners proficient in English and other foreign languages, and patients able to benefit from some of the highest-standard facilities in Asia. So highly regarding is Singapore’s private healthcare industry that it even attracts a number of medical tourists from overseas.
So, the key question now for expats will be not whether Singapore’s private healthcare sector is up to scratch, rather whether or not it is able to meet the sudden surge in demand. In the event that expats find private medical facilities overwhelmed, they may need to consider travelling to Indonesia or Malaysia for treatment, or else endure increasingly-longer waiting lists. In any case, all circumstances highlight the importance of having a robust and comprehensive level of private medical cover, with a suitable area of cover, when moving to Singapore.
Don’t take your chances – choose international health insurance wherever you go
No matter how universal the healthcare system in your new home country, anything could happen. And, as an expatriate, it can be hard to know where your rights begin and end when it comes to accessing healthcare. That’s why it’s important to choose a comprehensive health insurance policy that guarantees you and your family access to high-quality healthcare without the burden of high immediate costs.
At William Russell, we offer international health insurance that covers you for everything from minor injuries to long hospital stays to take one more thing off your mind. Speak to our award-winning customer service team today to see if our policies could be right for you.