KUALA LUMPUR, July 22 — Pakatan Harapan has refused to amend a law that imposes the highest fees on patients who switch from private to public hospitals, despite cancer patients’ protests about unfair treatment.
“The Fee Act stays,” Deputy Health Minister Dr Lee Boon Chye told CodeBlue.
He explained that if patients are admitted to third class wards, they will be charged third class rates.
“The higher fees for referral from GP (general practitioner) or private specialist applied only to ‘Klinik Pakar’ (government outpatient specialist clinics). For Malaysian citizens, inpatient charges follow the class of wards the patient is in,” he added.
Cancer advocates are asking for the withdrawal of the Fees (Medical) (Amendment) Order 2017, saying that patients who are referred from private or university hospitals to Ministry of Health (MOH) hospitals are still penalised with first class rates, including for hospitalisation and medicine, even if they want cheaper third class treatment.
This issue, they said, persisted despite the Health director-general’s April clarification that privately referred patients can choose third class wards at MOH hospitals for third class fees.
Cancer patients told a recent parliamentary briefing for MPs that they should not be punished with far more expensive treatments, medicines, and hospitalisation rates at MOH hospitals just because they did their initial treatment at a private facility, as they cannot afford to wait months at government facilities for their diagnosis or first surgery.
However, MOH explained that the imposition of first class rates are not under the 2017 amendment, but from the original law in 1982 under Section 12(a), where patients who are referred by a private practitioner will be charged first class rates for an investigation or treatment in government hospitals.
“If there is a case where private referral patients who choose to continue their treatment in government hospital (without going back to private practitioners), they will be charged at the rate of third class.
“Therefore, there is no issue that private referral patients are being penalised for going to private practice before seeking treatment in government hospitals,” MOH told CodeBlue in a separate statement.
“Even then, private referred patients who are treated as outpatients or in third class wards, and who are unable to afford these low charges can be exempted from payment of the whole or part of any charges by the head of any hospital or appointed representatives,” MOH added.
News Strait Times reported last October Health Minister Dzulkefly Ahmad as saying that his ministry would review the medical fee legislation.
When asked for comment, Health director-general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah told CodeBlue that the MOH is currently “underfunded, understaffed, underpaid, overworked, overstretched and with facilities overcrowded with patients”.
“We all need to try harder to improve the public health care system to increase the funding, to increase the number of health care workers, to improve the salary scale and availability of job posts in our health facilities; all of which are beyond the control of MOH.
“I believe when there is a will there is always a way.”