For most of us, we have forgotten what we did 4 years ago.
For this 74-year-old Ah Ma, she could remember it vividly.
It was the beginning of her $650k medical debt.
On that fateful day in July 2013, Ah Ma underwent a heart bypass operation in a private hospital.
Unfortunately, her condition took a turn for the worse.
She had to be hospitalized for a total of 3 months in both the ICU and the normal ward.
On the day that she was discharged, her medical bills had ballooned to $650k!
Ah Ma had upgraded her hospitalization plan in 2011.
Thinking that she was entitled to better coverage, she stayed in the private hospital for her treatments.
Little did she realize that her insurance plan had an exclusion clause!
And that exclusion was that all heart-related conditions were not covered by the policy.
What made things worse was that she took on the insurance company in Court.
After an expensive lawsuit which was ruled against Ah Ma, she was held liable for both her lawyer’s and the insurer’s legal fees.
It was another $300,000.
With nearly a million dollar debt and with her son being the guarantor, she had to auction off her furniture. She lamented.
“After the law suit had failed, the hospital started pursuing for payments. I had to put up my furniture for auction… I am so upset! I did not commit any crime. Why had my sickness lead to so much trouble?!”
Ah Ma managed to raise $6,900 from the auction.
That is still way off from settling the debt.
A successful yet futile fund-raising campaign.
It was meant to be a celebratory trip for the Cheong family.
Mama Cheong had fought a year-long battle against ovarian & breast cancer and pummeled that sickening illness into remission.
The family was overjoyed and decided to travel to their favourite holiday destination – Japan.
In a cruel twist of fate, Papa Cheong went into cardiac arrest as soon as the family arrived in Tokyo.
He was resuscitated and admitted to the ICU of Toho Medical University Omori Hospital on 19 April 2017. Since then, he was placed on a mechanical support and had remained unconscious.
The Cheong family had purchased travel insurance.
However, Papa Cheong had a heart failure back in 2012 and thus, had a pre-existing condition.
Pre-existing conditions are excluded from your standard travel insurance.
Eileen Cheong, the daughter of the family sought donations online so as to bring Papa back to Singapore.
The target amount was reached swiftly as the story was shared extensively on both traditional media and social media.
She was able to raise sufficient funds to bring Papa Cheong back.
However, it was not quite the fairytale ending.
Papa Cheong managed to survive the flight back but passed on shortly upon arrival.
Ms Cheong pledged to donate the remainders to those who needed it.
The Common Theme
Both stories ended in tragedies.
One may be worse off than another.
Nevertheless, they are sad stories that you do not want to be involved in, let alone be the central character of.
In both cases, the patients had pre-existing heart conditions that were not covered by insurance.
Both families did not realize that their insurance did not cover it.
Until it was too late.
It appears to some that insurance companies are the culprits.
Did the insurers collect the premiums and deny the claims afterwards?
From Ah Ma’s legal tussle with the insurance company, it is safe to conclude that it is not the case.
The insurance companies are usually transparent with their exclusion clauses.
When you submit a proposal form, the insurance underwriters will write to you if they are inserting an exclusion clause.
In order to give life to the contract, you will have to sign it to indicate your acceptance.
For travel insurance, the exclusions are written in the standard policy terms.
Who has time to read them right?
It turns out that the few minutes you take to read and comprehend may just be the difference-maker.
Detection is better than the cure.
Should Ah Ma have read and understood the exclusion clause, it is likely that she will not choose to upgrade her old plan.
She would have enjoyed full coverage from her previous plan if it had been purchased before her pre-existing condition.
Alternatively, she would have chosen a government hospital if she had realised that she had an exclusion before she has to have that op.
The same can be applied to the Cheong family.
There are travel insurance policies that are catered for those with pre-existing conditions.
The lesson is clear.
Only by fully understanding your policies well and detecting shortfalls early, you can then take the appropriate steps to rectify the situation by either rounding up your coverage gap or taking a cheaper medical option.
Another way to become the unwilling protagonist
Scouring the various fundraising websites, it is not difficult to find many crowd-sourcing efforts that are illness-related.
Just key in the word ‘cancer’ and find out for yourself.
You will be shocked by how often this search term appears.
These questions should be running through your mind by now.
Do you have sufficient coverage when illnesses or accidents strike?
Have you upgraded your hospitalization plan?
And just how long do you need your policies?
Underinsurance will land you in similar stories.
Whether you like it a not.
It appears to be the ideal situation.
Insurance premium saved.
Free money to solve your problem.
And the opportunity to appear on media if you are into this sort of things.
When you look at the listing, you will understand why.
Unless you are lucky enough to gain sufficient attention, your donation drive is likely to fail.
Although some people are altruistic, the amount needed is astronomical.
Without enough people chipping in, most fund-raising efforts fall short of their targeted goals.
The Happy Ending.
By taking steps to insure yourself properly and understanding your policies well, you can avoid being the protagonist of a tragic story.
There are many who have defeated cancers and other illnesses without making it into the headlines.
The reason we do not hear about them is because they have sufficient insurance coverage to tide them through the difficult period.
So, insure well.
Understand your policies thoroughly.
And be the central character in a successful story instead!
www.ClearlySurely.com aims to eradicate the knowledge gap between consumers and Life Insurance. Our Vision is that one day, every Man, Woman, and Child will be properly insured.