KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 9 — Despite immediate higher charges, deregulating private medical practitioners’ consultation fees will help control the escalating cost of health care in the long run, the Galen Centre for Health and Social Policy said.
Calling the landmark decision by Cabinet “yet another bold step” in the commitment to patient-centred health care reforms, the health think tank said it would significantly change the landscape of Malaysian healthcare.
“This move will encourage and create conditions ripe for investments in innovation, such as digital health, which will improve the quality of healthcare services and treatment,” said Galen CEO Azrul Mohd Khalib.
As an example, it will motivate and help support doctors and dentists, especially those just starting their own private practice, to provide better value, professionalism and higher quality of care.
This is because they will naturally want to stand out from their peers, Azrul said in a statement.
The Cabinet recently decided to deregulate private medical practitioners’ consultation fees, which means that general practitioners (GPs), dentists, and specialists in private clinics and hospitals will be able to set their own consultation fees.
“This decision gives back power to the public to decide on the type, quality and value of services they would like to have or not have,” Azrul added, noting that Malaysians, for the first time in decades, will now be able to exercise their choice to pick and benefit from healthy competition.
He also cited past studies that showed that Malaysian patients are willing to pay if the quality of health services is good and the prices, fair.
“Undoubtedly, there will be some pain and inconvenience at the onset,” he said. “Private health practitioners, who have had their rates frozen for 27 years, have to adjust to ensure that they are able to continue to pay salaries, buy equipment and medicines, and keep the lights on.
“After all, private clinics are small businesses,” he added.
Azrul said Galen expects consultancy fees in many private clinics to go up once the deregulation decision comes into effect. Factors that play into this includes location and level of complexity in the consultations.
However, once deregulation is implemented, private health care practitioners, including those who are hospital-based, will be tasked with the responsibility to ensure that their rates are affordable, realistic and fair, warned Azrul.
Failing to do so will see consumers not hesitating to punish those private health practitioners seeking to make unreasonable profit, exploit or provide sub-par health care to patients once they begin setting their new fee rates, he said.
The decision to deregulate private medical practitioners’ consultation fees came 13 years after they were legislated in 2006 under fee schedules in the Private Healthcare Facilities and Services Act (PHFSA) 1998.
Under Schedule 7 of the 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.