KUALA LUMPUR, May 3 — The Cabinet has decided not to increase private general practitioners’ (GPs) consultation fees that remained static since 1992, despite the closure of over 300 clinics last year.
This decision has sparked fears that the Cabinet’s recent approval of drug price controls will kill off GP practice.
“GPs run a business and the government ties their hands with controlling professional fees and now wants to control the price of medicine, the sales of which is sustaining the GP practice,” Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) president Dr Mohamed Namazie Ibrahim told CodeBlue.
He said Health Minister Dzulkefly Ahmad had informed him about the Cabinet’s decision on April 24 not to match the consultation fees for GPs operating shop lot practices that are currently set at between RM10 and RM35, with their counterparts working at private hospitals whose consultation fees were raised to between RM35 and RM125 in 2013.
The private GPs’ rate of between RM10 and RM35 was fixed over a decade ago in 2006. The 2006 fee schedule was based on a 1992 MMA guideline 27 years ago.
Dr Namazie said the Cabinet had described its decision as a “deferral”.
“But this does not appease the GPS who are saddled with low consultation fees and now price control. You can expect more clinics to close down if it becomes unsustainable.
“Many GPs who closed down are doing part-time locum practice.”
When asked if Dzulkefly explained the Cabinet’s rationale for refusing to raise GP fees, Dr Namazie said the Pakatan Harapan government cited the “economic situation of the country”.
The head of the doctors’ group pointed out that MMA has already negotiated with third-party administrators — intermediaries who are contracted by corporations to manage their employees’ health care — on a price control mechanism if the government agreed to harmonise GP fees across the board.
“For patients paying out of pocket, the market forces will determine the final cost of the encounter. No GP is going to overcharge as the patient has the choice to visit whichever one prefers and is affordable,” said Dr Namazie.
Dzulkefly told a press conference Tuesday that the Cabinet has approved medicine price controls that will be imposed through a regulation under the Price Control and Anti-Profiteering Act 2011.
He told reporters that the Health Ministry would use external reference pricing to benchmark against cheaper drug prices in other countries. Price ceilings will then be set accordingly at the wholesale and retail points, be it at clinics, hospitals, or pharmacies.
The minister also acknowledged that private GP clinics were struggling, noting that over 300 shut down last year.