Government hospital treatment costs more

KUALA LUMPUR: Patients referr­ed from private hospitals to public hospitals are paying more for cancer treatment and drugs and they are not happy about this.

Patients are saying they were told to pay RM400 for medicine that only cost about one third to half in private hospitals.

A patient had Stage 3 breast cancer and went to a private hospital for a lumpectomy in 2016, after which she was to take tamoxifen, an anti-estrogen drug that blocks breast cancer growth.

After the surgery on her right breast, the patient in her 40s, who wished to be known only as Chin, decided to go to the National Cancer Institute (IKN) in Putrajaya for follow-up treatment.

She was charged RM100 for a month’s supply of 30 tablets. But in March, after hearing that the charge had gone up for tamoxifen, she called up IKN to enquire about it and was told that it would cost her RM400 for the supply.

She was even more surprised to learn from a private hospital that it charged only RM150 for the same supply. Chin, who lives in Petaling Jaya, said the IKN staff claimed the subsidy was removed last October.

Doctors in private hospitals said it cost RM120 to RM150 for a box of 30 tablets of tamoxifen.

While doctors in public hospitals are tight-lipped, an oncologist in a private hospital, who declined to be named, said breast cancer patients came to her for cheaper drugs.

“They said they had to pay RM400 for the drugs,” she said.

She said patients had also complained that they had to pay RM400 for a month’s supply of letrozole or anastrozole in government hospitals, compared with RM250 in private hospitals.

This happens when patients were referred from a private hospital to a public hospital, she said.

However, if patients were refer­red by a public facility to another public facility, the charges would be RM50 for a month’s supply for each of the drugs, she said.

But private patients who sought treatment in public hospitals said they should not be charged exorbitantly as they need to manage their limited funds for their recurring cancer treatment.

Retiree Loong Dai Thai who had Stage 4 breast cancer also had to pay more for cancer treatment in IKN than in a private hospital.

After receiving treatment in a private hospital and a university hospital, the 64-year-old decided to do follow-up checks at a public hospital.

However, when she found a lump on her neck in November 2016, and that the cancer had spread from the breast to the lymph nodes, she went back to the earlier private hospital to get it quickly removed.

She then continued treatment at IKN but on the first visit the charges came up to about RM700, which included consultation, letrozole and blood test.

“The private hospital did not charge me this much. The IKN administrator told me it was because it was a private referral.”

Her son Victor Liew, 36, said they then requested IKN to refer her to Hospital Kuala Lumpur in the middle of last year.

He said his mother’s medical card provides for an annual usage of only RM20,000, which was why she turned to a government facility.

Initially, HKL charged a minimal RM5, which included various tests because it was a referral from a public facility, but in March, it started charging RM50 per box of letrozole for a month’s supply and she was asked to pay RM100 for a bone scan and RM30 for a blood test.

“The hospital said it was based on the pay chart but it was not displayed and we were not aware,” he said.

Asked to comment on the treatments and drugs that were more expensive in public health facilities than private hospitals, Deputy Health Minister Dr Lee Boon Chye said he would investigate.

“By right, in government hospitals, drugs are subsidised.

“I will look into it,” he said.

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