Media Statement by Dr. Ko Chung Sen, MP of Kampar on 20th, December, 2013
It was reported the Deputy Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr. Hilmi Yahaya told the Dewan Negara on Thursday that private hospitals cannot impose charges at will as the cost of treatment is controlled. Replying to a supplementary question from Senator Datuk Yunus Kurus, he said the cost of treatment at private hospitals was controlled under the Private Healthcare Services and Facilities Regulations 2006. He also said patients unhappy with the charges could complain to the ministry.
This was a very misleading statement as he had mistakenly referred to the private doctors’ fees rather than the private hospital charges. The private doctors’ fees are controlled by the Ministry of Health and had been the same for more than a decade since 2002. However, the private hospital charges had been going up every few months whenever there was any rise in the prices of the goods and services from the suppliers to improve the profit for the investors.
Unfortunately for Malaysian patients without the cover of medical insurance, the cost of private healthcare had become increasingly prohibitive. Even though the government hospitals provide very good general care at a very low price, there are severe shortages of properly qualified specialists in many areas. For example, only 30 out of the 200 cardiologists in the country serve at the government hospitals. The long queues in the government had forced many patients to pay for private hospital treatments by borrowing from friends and relatives, credit cards or even loan sharks. For the patients with medical insurance, the hospital bills nowadays easily exceed the annual limits of RM30,000 to RM60,000. The unfortunate cancer sufferers will know it can cost RM10,000 to RM20,000 a month for the latest state-of-the-art treatments. The total outlay over a few years can run up to few hundred thousand ringgits.
The cost of medical treatment is a major cause of bankruptcy in this country. Even the insurance companies are finding it difficult to cope with the ever higher medical bills due to the latest advances in technologies and treatments. The premium of medical insurance has gone up sharply as the consequence. This has become unaffordable for many struggling families.
Unfortunately, the government had NOT controlled the private hospital charges at all. Even though the private doctors’ fees had been fixed and not gone up for more than 10 years, the treatment charges had increased by 40% or more in some private hospitals over the same period. The free market forces in the private hospitals in Malaysia had not worked to reduce the cost of treatments, but actually resulted in a race to provide the most profitable latest therapies. Even very easily identifiable medicines are freely priced. Amazingly, Malaysians pay up to 148% higher prices for medicine compared to developed countries like Australia because of lack of government price control.
The private doctors’ fee was approved by the cabinet last year to increase by 14%. Already the Malaysian Medical Association called for a 30% hike in private doctors fee instead as it was the first increase since 2002 in the face of much higher cost of living. The private hospital treatment charges will definitely go up with hikes in the prices of electricity and petrol as well as the GST (Goods & Services Tax). The TPPA (Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement) will also render the medicine prices 30% higher. This tsunami of price hikes will prove too much to bear for the long suffering masses. I hereby urge the government to reject the TPPA and to introduce price control for medicines and private hospital treatments for the health of the country and the people. Many of them, already faced with multiple price hikes, will not be able to pay the much higher premium to renew their medical insurance. In turn, they will make the queues even longer, possibly deadly, in the desperately over-stretched government hospitals. “Wait until you die” may become a reality.