IT must have come as a shock to many Malaysians that the Medical Assistance Fund meant for patients with chronic diseases should be left unused by those in need of such financial help.
Normally, the reverse is true, that the funds will never be sufficient to meet the demand for those needing urgent medical attention. The MAF is meant to provide treatment to those suffering from cancer, kidney, heart disease, pulmonary hypertension, viral hepatitis, Parkinson's disease and HIV/AIDS.
What surprised Health Minister Datuk Dr Chua Soi Lek was that only RM6.1mil was used last year out of an allocation of RM25mil. The unused RM18.9mil would be added to this year's budget of RM25mil set aside for this purpose.
There is actually no secret why the MAF was underused last year and this was due to lack of public awareness of its existence. With wider publicity, there should be a higher pick-up rate this year and the full amount should be spent.
Many of those requiring such crucial funding may not know how to go about applying for assistance. Private medical practitioners should be roped in to inform the public of its availability.
Non-governmental organisations can play a major role in this exercise. Political parties in particular can help those in need to fill up the forms and to ensure that all the approval letters from the relevant authorities are there.
Apart from civil servants, pensioners and their families, those outside this group will be entitled to apply for assistance from this special fund. We must remember, too that many of those in need are from the lower-income group or those with little education.
Unless they are told of the free scheme, they will not know that it is there to help them. Another key feature is that it is not a one-off benefit scheme but there will also be free follow through treatment.
For example, those who had undergone an operation for a major disease will be able to continue to benefit from the project since chemotherapy and radiotherapy will be required.
But if such operations and follow-up treatments are done at government hospitals, the costs are easier to control since such medical attention will be much cheaper as it is subsidised.
Treatment at private hospitals will only be allowed if it is not available at government hospitals and this is a good concession for the good of patients.
There is likelihood that there will be a flood of applicants for such assistance this year and there is a need to ensure that only the needy will benefit from this caring programme.