Death of an Insurance Salesman
By Toh Hsien Min
During a recent sitting of Parliament, an unusual debate flared up in the House concerning insurance premiums, or specifically the fact that women were set to be charged fifty dollars more per year in annual premiums for the proposed CareShield Life scheme to provide Singaporeans with better protection against long-term healthcare costs in the event of disability. This differential charging was no more than a footnote when its predecessor plan, ElderShield, was introduced sixteen years ago, but launching it into a "woke" climate was always going to prove trickier. Apparently it's unfair to charge women more for the higher probability of living both longer and under disability, never mind that the economics of the insurance industry have always been founded upon pricing for risk factors as accurately as possible to the extent allowed by the law. It is already unfair not to incorporate other risk factors such as ethnicity. In the other direction, if the pricing for CareShield Life were forced to be undifferentiated by gender, there would be a strong argument that this forces men to subsidise women. (In similar vein, it would be also unfair for men to have to pay more for life insurance policies that price in the probability of earlier male mortality, as is currently the case.) Equalising the premiums by having the government make up the difference, which has been touted as a solution, merely shuffles the subsidy under a very large carpet.
So if one were to be objective about the matter, there is no solution that would be unambiguously fair to all parties. While the principle of equity should be upheld, its application seems to be getting ever more murky. Should Ben Davis be granted a long-term deferment from national service to pursue a lucrative professional football career? If that were to be granted, where would one draw the line? What if a computer science prodigy were to turn up at CMPB having founded a startup with the potential to be the next Facebook? Indeed, shouldn't women be equally liable for national service? After all, a fifty-dollar annual premium hardly compares to over two years of one's life. The list goes on.
Perhaps national service is far enough away from me now to be able to look on it with a certain detachment and drop it drily into a point hardly made in earnest, whereas my younger self struggling with much more weight on the back in relative terms compared to other enlistees would be rather more strident; yet this temporal perspective rather seems to me to suggest that such cries for equality are always louder when one considers what one receives, or is subjected to, or takes. People who willingly give - to charity or to society or just in the name of neighbourliness or friendship - rarely pay heed to how the books balance out. In this light, it is hard not to wonder if the idea of equality might be its own worst enemy.
There is rather a societal tinge to this issue of QLRS, from Karien van Ditzhuijzen's short story and arguably Melvin Sterne's too, through to Theophilus Kwek's review of Philip Holden's Hook and Eye: Stories from the Margins, via the brutal social honesty of Rainer Werner Fassbinder as described by Robert J. Cardullo. The poetry is dominated by Singaporeans for what may be the first time in many volumes, though as ever this is a reflection of what has been submitted. I'm not sure I should single any of them out for special mention however. It mightn't be fair.QLRS Vol. 17 No. 3 Jul 2018