Shock over consultation fee news

KUALA LUMPUR: The Cabinet’s move to allow private doctors and specialists to fix their consultation fee has shocked Malaysians who are worried about the possibility of rising healthcare costs.

HR consultant Toh Joo Lee said middle-class families could afford to go to private clinics but when the fees are unregulated, they would likely go up, thus making the service less accessible.

Toh, 33, is also concerned that patients might have to fork out a hefty sum in emergencies.

Programme administrator Stephanie Cheang said with no regulation controlling consultation fees, specialists might take advantage by charging a premium.

“This will leave middle-income parents like myself and my husband with limited choices.

“We want to be able to consult good specialists for our daughter.”

“I think the government should provide guidelines on the maximum charge for consultation fee per visit,” said Cheang, 30.

Lim Lay See, 42, said there should be a mechanism in place to ensure such fees remain affordable.

“Now, I am worried because it may cost way more than the current fees,” said Lim.

However, a mother of four, Sem Aw, 51, agreed with the deregulation

She said this would allow doctors to waive or charge minimal fees to the poor.

She explained that she had met a patient who left a specialist clinic with her screaming baby when told the minimum charge was RM135.

“Specialists should at least treat their patients first and charge with discretion,” she said.

The Health Ministry made the announcement about deregulating the fee structure on Friday, which means that private doctors, dentists and specialists in clinics and hospitals can soon set their own consultation fees.

No date has been announced on when this will start, as the regulations on the fees need to be amended first.

The move came about after general practitioners in standalone clinics had protested about their fees of RM10 to RM35, which had not been revised since 1992.

Doctors at private hospitals with similar qualifications, however, have been charging between RM30 and RM125 per consultation since 2013.

But this deregulation move by the government has stunned the Citizens’ Health Initiative, an informal grouping that works towards healthcare reforms.

Describing it as “bizarre” and very unexpected, member Dr Chee Heng Leng explained that GPs had been asking their fees to be adjusted but the Cabinet instead opted to free the market for all private doctors.

“There were hardly any consultations with consumer groups and the public.

“We were caught unawares,” she said.

The healthcare market is not perfect, she said.

“There is competition in urban areas, but in areas with only one doctor, it will be difficult for people to travel to other places.

“They tend to go to the nearest facility when they are sick and need care urgently,” she said.

Dr Chee cautioned that if private doctors increase their fees too high, more patients would turn to public healthcare and the government would then need to allocate more resources to ensure waiting time is manageable.

If fees are too high, insurance premiums might increase, she added.

Fomca CEO Datuk Paul Selvaraj said that doctors should display their charges for their patients’ viewing.

He added that the government must also look at ensuring all charges at private hospitals are affordable as “many Malaysians pay out-of-pocket and do not have insurance”.

With public hospitals being overcrowded and private hospitals charging too high, Paul suggested that hospitals owned by government-linked companies play a role in offering affordable rates.

“The government must play a significant role in making healthcare accessible and affordable for all so that people do not suffer,” he said.

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