KUALA LUMPUR: Doctors and dentists in private clinics and hospitals can soon decide how much to charge their patients, following a decision by the Cabinet to deregulate the fee structures and let free market reign.
The latest decision will strengthen the consumers' power to choose their doctors.
Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad, who announced this, said the Cabinet had assessed the matter holistically and comprehensively as well as taken into consideration the recommendations from the National Cost of Living Council.
The Cabinet is also concerned about the need to amend the Seventh Schedule of the Private Healthcare Facilities and Services (Private Medical Clinics and Private Dental Clinics) Regulations 2006, which has not been amended since it was enforced in 2006, he said.
"As such, the Cabinet has agreed to abolish the control over consultation fees under Act 586.
"With the control of consultation fees abolished, doctors can now determine their own consultation fee rates," he said in a statement on Friday (Dec 6).
The abolition of the fee control will include all registered facilities (in the Seventh Schedule) and licensed facilities (13th Schedule), said Dzulkefly.
The fees for GPs and dentists, as stated in the Seventh Schedule, have not changed in 27 years and doctors have been calling for the fee harmonisation as provided for in the 13th Schedule of the regulations when it was revised in 2013.
In 2013, the consultation fee was gazetted for medical officers working in private hospitals under the 13th Schedule, but was overlooked for GPs and dentists working in private clinics under the Seventh Schedule.
The current fees of RM10 to RM35 for GPs and dentists practising in shoplot clinics have not been revised since 1992 while medical officers at private hospitals who have the same qualifications have been charging between RM30 and RM125 per consultation.
After much protest from doctors, on May 9, Dzulkefly said the Cabinet did not reject the proposal but it would be discussed at the National Cost of Living Council meeting before being brought up in the Cabinet again.
In the statement, Dzulkefly also said the measure was seen as a mechanism that would motivate doctors to improve on their skills, professionalism and quality of service.
"It is also hoped that it will motivate the private health services sector," he added.
Following this, Dzulkefly said the ministry would look into new rules to strengthen the current regulations for them to be more transparent and friendly in the service delivery for patients.
"Among others, the consultation fees must be displayed clearly so that patients are aware of the fees before getting treatment," he said.
If patients are not happy with the charges or services received in any of the private facilities, they can lodge a complaint with the Private Medical Practice Control Section at firstname.lastname@example.org for further investigation, he said.
The ministry will also hold sessions to explain the matter to various groups.