Deregulated Doctor Fees As Early As Christmas?

Pending a review of the amendments from MOH, deregulating private medical practitioners’ consultation fees may be a done deal by this month or January, says Dr Lee Boon Chye.

PUTRAJAYA, Dec 9 — General practitioners (GPs), dentists, and specialists in private clinics and hospitals could be free to set their own consultation fees as soon as Christmas, pending a review of the law by the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC), Dr Lee Boon Chye said today.

The deputy health minister said the Ministry of Health’s (MOH) legal division is currently drafting the amended regulations involving Act 586, or the Private Healthcare Facilities and Services Act (PHFSA) 1998.

“It will still need to be vetted by (the) AGC to make sure there are no inconsistencies, before (the minister) signs into effect the regulations,” he told CodeBlue today.

Asked for a timeline for the fee deregulation to take effect, Dr Lee said he could not confirm anything definitive for now.

“It may be one to two weeks or months, pending the speed of (the) AGC’s review.”

He added that the amendments do not need to be tabled or debated in Parliament as PHFSA allows for the health minister to unilaterally make amendments to the law, referring to Sections 106 and 107 of PHFSA.

Section 106(2) states that the health minister may, from time to time, after consulting the health department director-general, amend the fee schedule by order published in the gazette.

Section 107(1), on the other hand, states that the health minister may make such regulations as appear to him or her necessary or expedient for carrying out the provisions of the PHFSA.

This follows Cabinet’s landmark decision to deregulate private medical practitioners’ consultation fees, 13 years after they were legislated in 2006 with rates set in law by the federal government.

Under Schedule 7 of PHFSA, private clinic dentists’ consultation fees are capped at RM25 to RM250. Under Schedule 13, private hospital specialists’ consultation fees are legislated at a rate of RM80 to RM235.

The decision also follows widespread dissatisfaction among some 7,000 private GPs in the country who have demanded that their consultation fees of RM10 to RM35 be harmonised with their hospital-based counterparts, whose consultation fees were increased in 2013 to RM30 to RM125.

Meanwhile, Health Minister Dzulkefly Ahmad today said MOH is taking note of all views and concerns over the deregulation move, following concerns of higher health care costs by the Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF).

Health care group Citizens’ Health Initiative reportedly complained that the government hardly consulted consumer groups and the public about its decision to deregulate private medical practitioners’ consultation fees.

Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of an MOH event here, Dzulkefly said discussions and consultation sessions with consumer groups and other stakeholders will be carried out about the new protocols for private medical and dental clinics.

He reiterated that consumers will be able to have more options once deregulation of the fees comes into effect, adding that private doctors or dentists who overcharge will see less patients frequenting their premises, and will then start offering more affordable fees.

He also said MOH will discuss how to overcome a possible concern raised about a so-called cartel of doctors taking advantage of patients, and then relay the ministry’s solutions to these issues to the public.

“In whatever policy, there are… downsides, things that become challenging (to overcome), but all of these, we have thought through, 360 degrees… and (I am confident that) we know how to (overcome) these problems,” Dzulkefly said.

The Galen Centre for Health and Social Policy has predicted immediate higher charges once the deregulation kicks in, while the Malaysian Medical Association has warned private physicians against undercutting their professional charges.

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