Dr Sidharth Kachroo, Head of Medical Portfolio Management, Prudential Singapore, shares his views on being ready to live to 100, and the contribution insurers can make to prepare Singaporeans for this.
The good news is that Singaporeans are living longer than ever.
The bad news is, according to Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) Healthy for 100? research commissioned by Prudential, they aren’t as prepared as they should be — especially with rising healthcare costs that we are expecting to see on the horizon.
Still, it is not too late. With the right preparation, we can ensure we live longer, and fuller lives.
Do you want to live to 100?
Surprisingly, the same research found that less than a third of Singaporeans want to live to 100. Understanding why is important, especially since Singaporeans are going to be living longer.
Centenarians, those aged 100 years or older, were once a rarity in Singapore – there were only 50 of them living in 1990. But by 2015, their numbers had increased more than 20-fold to 1,100. Even for those who don’t make it into triple figures, lifespans are becoming inexorably longer.
In 1997, Singaporeans lived an average of 76.9 years. In 2017, that figure had risen to 83.1 years, and the country also ranked first globally for highest life expectancy at birth (84.8 years). By 2040, Singaporeans are expected to have the third-longest lifespans globally, living an average of 85.4 years, according to the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington.
This is something worth celebrating and it’s a tribute to Singapore’s high living and healthcare standards, together with the hard-working residents who built them.
The costs of living to 100
It does come with a cost – literally. And that is an ageing population.
Singapore’s annual healthcare bill for the elderly is predicted to rise tenfold to $67 billion by 2030, which is more than $50,000 per elderly person. We might very well live to 100, but how many of those extra years will be spent healthily – and who will pay if they are not?
Every day, new research confirms what health professionals have always preached: healthy lifestyles reduce the risk of chronic disease and incapacity in old age. Ultimately, prevention is better than cure.
Residents themselves are aware of this according to the research, and they have good intentions of exercising and eating healthily. However, reality has a habit of getting in the way.
The truth is most Singaporeans exercise well below the recommended five days per week and consume more than the recommended intake of sugar and processed grains. This is contributing to rising rates of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and dementia.
So, how ready are we to live to 100?
In a separate EIU survey, 55% of residents themselves admit “they personally are not ready from a health and wellness perspective to reach that age.”
While healthier lifestyles can be achieved with proactive effort and commitment, individuals do not have to do it all on their own. The Government and private enterprises too can enable people to prioritise healthy living.
The Singapore government is already playing an active role, such as through its $3 billion Action Plan for Successful Ageing.
This Plan consists of more than 70 initiatives to help seniors in Singapore age well and lead healthy lives. These are designed to provide opportunities to people of all ages for lifelong learning, create a caring and inclusive ‘kampong’ community, and ultimately a city known for its successful ageing.
In 2016, the Ministry of Health’s (MOH) also declared “War on Diabetes” in its campaign to reduce the amount of sugar in packaged sugar sweetened beverages and pre-packaged food, and encourage the food sector and consumers to adopt healthier ingredients in their food recipes so as to promote healthier eating. Citizens are also given subsidies for general health and diabetes screening.
Diabetes is a serious concern to Singaporeans; one in three have a lifetime risk of getting the disease, and the number of diabetics is expected to reach one million by 2050. The initiative aims to rally the nation to the burden of diabetes on Singaporeans and ensure healthier living as we age.
Also, MOH’s HealthySG Taskforce has made 11 recommendations to encourage Singaporeans to lead healthier lifestyles. Subsidies for vaccines, smoking cessation support, and a lifelong virtual health booklet are just some examples of these recommendations.
Private enterprise, too, can help by supporting employees to lead longer, fuller lives by increasing the retirement age, or by taking away that limit entirely. Employees not only have a means to continue earning an income as they age, but companies like these also provide an avenue for people to continue learning and achieving their full potential as an individual.
Providing healthier workspaces would also help to maintain the health of employees. For example, ensuring that employees are provided with quality and comfortable indoor environments that protect their physical and mental well-being — green spaces, adequately furnished environments, sufficient lighting.
Exercise can also be encouraged with attractive incentives. For example, as part of its campaign to celebrate people’s drive to progress in life, Prudential organised a ”DO Squats Challenge” at two train stations for a month in 2019. Completing 20 squats in 40 seconds entitled participants a complimentary train ride.
How insurers can do their part
In the insurance industry, we’re very aware of the contribution we can make and encourage our customers to actively pursue healthy lifestyles.
For instance, customers can be given free health screenings with every insurance plan they sign up for. They could be given savings off their premiums if they do not make claims at private or public hospitals within stipulated periods of time. Or perhaps, tying in with technology, customers who walk a certain number of steps per month could be rewarded with attractive prizes by their insurers.
By rewarding customers with incentives tied to health achievements, customers might be more willing to put in a little more effort to adopt a healthier lifestyle, thereby saving on money that would have been spent on medical claims, while achieving a healthier body.
The industry has also begun exploring other, more innovative options to protect a greater range of customers, including the elderly and those with chronic diseases. We are also working with the tech sector to provide some completely new services. For example, through a mobile app, anyone can create a digital twin and be enlightened on their current lifestyle and given tips for improvement, monitor their health symptoms, or consult a doctor online.
These combine the emerging potential of artificial intelligence and big data with mobile app technology to help customers better monitor their own health, and manage and prevent chronic diseases.
Longer lifespans are an amazing achievement in themselves, and if we’ve made life longer, then there’s no reason to think we can’t make it healthier. After all, we have plenty of time.
The information in this article does not necessarily reflect the views of Prudential Assurance Company Singapore Pte. Ltd. Certain information in this article may be taken from external sources, which we consider reliable. We do not represent that this information is accurate or complete and should not be relied upon as such.
This article is for your information only and does not consider your specific investment objectives, financial situation or needs. We recommend that you seek advice from a Prudential Singapore Financial Consultant before making a commitment to purchase a policy.