With Deregulated Fees, Don’t Oppose Medicine Price Controls, CAP Tells Health Providers

Public display of medical practitioners’ consultation fees won’t necessarily empower patients either, says Consumers Association of Penang.

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 17 — Private medical practitioners and hospitals shouldn’t reject proposed drug price controls or medicine dispensing separation when consultation fees are deregulated, said the Consumers Association of Penang (CAP).

The consumers group also urged the government to first study the effect of deregulation of general practitioners (GPs), specialists, and dentists’ professional charges before deregulating medical procedure fees.

“If this proposed policy proceeds, private health care practitioners and hospitals should not oppose the government’s rational policy for drug price regulation as well as separation of pharmacy dispensary from doctors’ consultation/ prescription,” CAP president Mohideen Abdul Kader said in a statement.

CAP expressed concern that family physicians or chain health facilities could engage in a cartel or anti-competitive practices that could indirectly result in higher out-of-pocket expenditure for medical treatment.

The consumers’ group cited Aon’s 2020 Global Medical Trend Rates Report that found Malaysia had among the highest medical inflation rates in the region, with a projected gross 14 per cent medical inflation rate in 2020, greater than five times the general inflation rate.

“Therefore, CAP remains cautious over this new policy proposal to deregulate medical fees, urges the government to monitor the private medical fees closely and intervene whenever necessary if this leads to negative impacts on the people’s welfare, eroding instead of empowering consumer’s rights.”

The consumers’ group claimed that the government’s planned requirement for clinics to publicly display their fees did not necessarily empower patients.

“Besides the most basic consultation fee, treatment fees could vary greatly (especially true in private hospitals), and often patients do not know what to expect after the first consultation,” Mohideen said.

CAP, however, also acknowledged that clinic GPs’ consultation fees have not been adjusted for 27 years since they were capped by legislation at a 1992 rate of RM10 to RM35.

“Often this has been used as an excuse to mark up the drugs dispensed and sold in the private clinics, sometimes outrageously, purportedly just to make the private business viable.

“Just by taking into account inflation since 1992, the rates in the fee schedule should have been adjusted accordingly and fairly close to 100 per cent increase, in CAP’s calculation.”

The government recently announced its decision to deregulate private medical practitioners’ consultation fees, 13 years after they were legislated in 2006. Family physicians in private clinics had long been demanding for their professional charges to be raised to RM30 to RM125, the same rate earned by their hospital-based counterparts.

The Health Ministry also tried to push amendments to the Poisons Act 1952 to enforce mandatory prescriptions upon patients’ request, punishing non-compliance with incarceration or fines, but subsequent parliamentary readings of the Bill were postponed to next year amid outrage from physicians and dentists. The Poisons (Amendment) 2019 Bill stopped short of separating the prescribing and dispensing of medicines to doctors and pharmacists respectively.

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