Dr Dzulkefly: Details of social health insurance for B40 group to be revealed during tabling of Budget 2019

KUALA LUMPUR: The social health insurance (SHI) for the B40 low-income group will be made known during the Budget 2019 announcement and town hall meetings will be held after that, says Datuk Seri Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad (pic).

The Health Minister said he could not disclose the details of the scheme as it will be announced on Nov 2.

Some stakeholders had asked the ministry for details of the SHI before it is tabled in Parliament during the Budget 2019 announcement. The SHI will roll out on Jan 1.

“Not to worry because it is not cast in stone. It can be tweaked,” he assured when asked about the scheme after the signing of a MoU between Standard Chartered Malaysia and the ministry on Tuesday (Oct 30).

Under the MoU, the bank would be donating RM220,000 to cover the cost of approximately 1,000 intraocular lenses and bringing eye support to communities in the rural areas.

Dr Dzulkefly said the ministry will engage in town hall meetings with state health excos and other stakeholders after the SHI is announced on Budget Day.

He said the emphasis of the health protection plan is primary healthcare and health protection for the low-income group, as promised in the Pakatan Harapan’s general election manifesto, and not the M40 or higher income groups.

Dr Dzulkefly promised that the health protection plan for the nation’s poor will involve preventive and promotive healthcare, screening and diagnosing patients early, such as those with diabetes and hypertension.

It was reported that a foreign-owned insurance company has proposed to contribute billions of ringgit to set up a medical scheme for the poor in exchange for a swap deal.

The company has proposed to contribute RM2.3bil to RM2.5bil in return for an exemption from having to sell a 30% stake to local investors as required by Bank Negara Malaysia, The Edge reported online on Monday (Oct 29).

It also said that sources familiar with the discussions between the insurer, Bank Negara Malaysia and the Finance Ministry (MOF), said an additional RM500mil to RM600mil will also be made available for scholarships in healthcare.

“The discussions are in a very advanced stage and the parties hope to strike an agreement soon”, it said.

It quoted Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad as saying the deal could help fund the national healthcare insurance scheme for the poor when tabling the Mid-Term Review of the 11th Malaysia Plan in Parliament last Thursday (Oct 25).

In response, the Citizens’ Health Initiative (CHI) said such swap deals should be viewed with extreme caution because the value of one part of the swap cannot be assessed independently of the other, and the people’s long-term interests are invariably swapped for short-term benefits.

Its member Dr Chee Heng Leng said the proposed medical insurance scheme was reported to target five million people in the B40 group and each family was supposedly entitled to coverage of up to RM10,000 a year for up to 10 years.

This will expand the demand in private hospitals, pulling even more specialists and health expertise away from the public sector, she said in a statement.

She asked what happens to cases that exceed these limits and when the foreign insurer’s contribution stopped after 10 years.

The deal appears attractive as it lessens the government’s financial burden but it will enable the company to circumvent Bank Negara local ownership requirements and probably qualify for generous tax exemptions, said Dr Chee.

“More importantly for national healthcare financing, it will entrap the country into dependence on private health insurance and healthcare.

CHI urged the government to refrain from short-term piecemeal strategies but work towards a strategic long-term plan that considers the inter-linkages and functioning of the healthcare system more comprehensively and holistically.

It called on the Pakatan Harapan government to stop the swap deal with the foreign insurer and make transparent all plans to reform the health sector, and practice the consultative approach promised.