Consumer groups urge the government to maintain public healthcare prices

Hospital charges: Notices at the payment counter of Hospital Putrajaya. —AZHAR MAHFOF/The Star

PETALING JAYA: The low public healthcare registration fees should be maintained, say consumer groups.

Malaysian Coalition of Ageing chairman, Cheah Tuck Wing, said it is poor timing to increase fees now as many are badly affected by the pandemic.

“For the B40 groups, any increase will affect them, especially when we’re just recovering from the pandemic, and there are people struggling to make ends meet.

“Some may have lost their jobs, while some seniors may have been abandoned by their children,” he said in response to Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin’s written reply in Parliament on July 19, where he said Malaysia’s public healthcare system, which charges RM1 and RM5 for outpatient and specialist care respectively, is unsustainable.

Khairy said the government’s collection from the RM1 and RM5 medical fees, as stipulated under the Fees (Medical) Order 1982 and Fees (Medical) (Amendment) Order 2017, accounted for only 1% of the amount spent on public healthcare.

Rather than a broad-based increase that hits everyone equally, Cheah suggested the government consider differentiating the revised charges based on household income or whether the patients are among the Bantuan Keluarga Malaysia (BKM) recipients.

“We sometimes see that the rich are taking advantage of low charges at public hospitals and government clinics.

“Some of these well-off individuals even ask for facilities meant for the poor and underprivileged,” he claimed.

Federation of Malaysian Consu- mers Associations president Datuk N. Marimuthu said the government should ensure that healthcare remains accessible to all.

He said that there are three things that the government of the day should safeguard: education, health, and job security.

“(Healthcare) is a fundamental (right). RM1 or RM5 is not the issue. The government should take care of the rakyat,” he said.

Marimuthu added that some people cannot even afford to buy medicine.

Meanwhile, president of the National Patriots Association, Brig Gen (Rtd) Datuk Mohamed Arshad Raji, said the poor will be affected by fee increases as they don’t have the choice to opt for treatment at other facilities aside from government facilities.

“This is not the time to raise fees. It’s the poor who will be affected because they are unlikely to go to private clinics for medical treatment.

“It is obvious that government hospitals will be their only (option) for medical treatment,” he said.

In his parliamentary reply, Khairy said government expenditure on health has increased 190% over the past 14 years, rising from RM12.6bil in 2006 to RM36.6bil in 2021.

The government subsidises about 98% of the treatment costs for citizens at public health facilities.

Currently, the ministry is studying various future-proof health financing options to strengthen the healthcare system so that health services are more equitable, have high standards, are easily accessible at a reasonable cost, and are sustainable in the long run.

These matters are being addressed in an upcoming White Paper on Healthcare Reforms that is expected to be tabled in Parliament in November.

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