KUALA LUMPUR, August 2 — A cost of living government council yesterday deliberated other options instead of increasing private clinic general practitioners’ (GP) consultation fees that have stagnated since 1992.
The National Cost of Living Action Council’s (NACCOL) meeting — chaired by Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Minister Saifuddin Nasution Ismail — saw “a lot of people” objecting against raising private family doctors’ fees, out of fear that this might drive people to already congested public hospitals, especially in rural areas.
“Some people were just very concerned that if you increase this, it will be very disastrous for public hospitals,” a source who attended the meeting told CodeBlue on condition of anonymity because the person was not authorised to speak publicly.
Besides the Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Ministry, the NACCOL meeting in Putrajaya yesterday was also attended by representatives from the Health Ministry, other ministries, government agencies, the Malaysian National Co-operative Movement (Angkasa), Bank Negara, Khazanah Research Institute, and consumer groups among others.
According to the source, some people at the meeting pointed out that GPs’ consultation fees have been capped by the government at the same rate for 27 years. Private GPs operating shoplot clinics can only charge between RM10 and RM35 for a consultation, lower than their hospital-based counterparts’ rate of RM30 to RM125.
“Rightfully, some people had a point that it hadn’t been reviewed for a very long time. Why is it that doctors’ income has not gone up when everything else — rent, cost of living, medicine, and everything — went up? So it’s only fair there’s a review.
“But it so happens that this review happened during Pakatan Harapan’s time.”
The source said compromises were suggested at the NACCOL meeting to reduce clinic GPs’ business cost instead of revising their consultation fees, such as by giving the family doctors tax rebates, reduced office rent by offering them empty government buildings, and finding ways to shrink their electricity bills.
The meeting also heard suggestions for mandatory prescriptions should the government decide to harmonise clinic GPs’ fees with their hospital counterparts, so that patients have the option of getting cheaper drugs at pharmacies.
The Health Ministry, according to the source, tried to push for the long overdue GP fee raise, but many were telling the ministry: “We recognise that what you’re saying is valid, but let’s find other ways to reduce their cost and find savings for patients.”
No decision was reached at the NACCOL meeting yesterday about whether or not to increase GPs’ consultation fees, as this will only be made at the next meeting chaired by Deputy Prime Minister Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail.
“It was a very heated discussion,” said the source, stressing that whatever was thrashed out at yesterday’s meeting did not represent any official government position on the issue.
Physicians’ groups charge that the Health Ministry under the-then Barisan Nasional administration passed a legal amendment order in 2013 to raise GPs’ fees, but while the increased rate was gazetted for doctors working in private hospitals, private clinics were somehow missed out.
Family doctors are warning PH that the solo GP practice will eventually die if their fees remain stagnant, especially in the face of impending regulations controlling the price of medicines, which they say is their main source of income.
Health Minister Dzulkefly Ahmad proposed to the Cabinet last April to harmonise clinic GPs’ consultation fees with their hospital counterparts, but the Cabinet kicked the matter to NACCOL, after which it is supposed to be retabled at the Cabinet.