SINGAPORE – Proper planning and a willingness to lead a healthier life are key to maintaining financial health, given the rising living and medical costs, said panellists on Thursday.

As insurer AIA’s chief customer and digital officer, Ms Melita Teo, told the event: “Always anticipate what you cannot really be prepared for.”

Ms Teo cited healthcare costs, which “have been going at double the Singapore inflation rate for quite a few years”.

“For example, late-stage treatment for cancer, which is the leading cause of death in Singapore, can cost nearly $200,000 per year.”

She also noted that an AIA study in 2023 found that 60 per cent of customers are concerned about being diagnosed with an illness, so “taking the time to plan for the future and expected events is necessary for any Singaporean”.

The panel discussion, which was organised by AIA Singapore and The Straits Times and moderated by ST Invest editor Tan Ooi Boon, also heard that individuals can do more to help themselves on the health front.

Panellist Tan Hiang Khoon, Singapore General Hospital’s deputy chief executive, noted that prevention is better than cure: “There’s no better way of lowering healthcare costs than preventing yourself from getting sick in the first place.

“And there are very simple things you can do such as taking care of your diet, exercising regularly and getting good sleep.”

Professor Tan also noted that the Government, the healthcare system and insurers need to work together to solve the issue of rising healthcare costs.

Biotech professional Herbert Ho added that those of the older generation do not usually have adequate insurance coverage, which can be stressful for family members.

“If you do not have adequate coverage, then you have to grapple with the anxiety and emotional stress of wanting to deliver the best treatment for your loved ones,” he said. “You then have to grapple with the unplanned financial cost along with other ancillary costs like caregiver fees and medication.”

Ms Teo said there are ways families can prepare for unplanned costs, including putting aside a small amount to buy insurance coverage and reviewing that amount regularly.

She cited the “sandwich generation” – those taking care of both their parents and children at the same time.

“Financial stress can lead to more mental stress, particularly when we are responsible for someone’s well-being. So there is responsibility on our part to make sure that these coverage gaps are well taken care of with time,” Ms Teo said.

She also pointed out that government initiatives like Healthier SG are timely as people are becoming increasingly aware that they can do more for their own health in terms of treatment and prevention of chronic diseases.

“I think that is a great way of taking responsibility for your own health.”

Healthier SG aims to get family doctors and patients to devise health plans that include lifestyle changes and regular check-ups.

Residents who sign up with Healthier SG can get free annual check-ups and nationally recommended vaccinations like flu shots.

Read more about and watch a video on the panel’s discussion in The Sunday Times on Oct 8.