KUALA LUMPUR, June 12 — Two Assunta Hospital patients complained about charges for protective gear worn by staff that comprised almost half their total medical bills amid the Covid-19 outbreak.
A 69-year-old Malaysian man — who received treatment for an inflamed lung on May 12 at the private hospital in Petaling Jaya, Selangor — was charged RM500 for isolation personal protective equipment (PPE) used by two nurses attending to him, amounting to 44 per cent of his total medical bill for RM1,146.65.
A 38-year-old expatriate man was charged RM313 for PPE used by his attending doctor and nurse at Assunta Hospital on June 7 when he got stitches for a lacerated finger, comprising 49 per cent of his total RM642.30 medical bill.
According to Assunta Hospital, which is described as a “not-for-profit institution” on its website, staff’s isolation PPE comprises a blue apron, face shield, N95 mask, boot covers, and a pair of gloves, which it insists are charged to patients at a legal rate.
For the Malaysian patient, the RM500 charge for staff’s PPE exceeded the discounted price of drugs and medicine at RM197.64, procedure fees at RM70, surgical materials at RM65.65, radiology services at RM61.50, and every other item on the bill.
The 69-year-old man’s daughter has refused to pay the RM500 for hospital staff’s PPE, claiming that they were not informed about it prior to treatment. She only paid the remaining RM646.65 from the total RM1,146.65 bill.
“My dad was a patient of Assunta for almost 25 years. When I went to pay the medical bill, it came to about RM1,100. So then I saw there was a charge for PPE of 500 ringgit. So I asked the cashier, ‘What is this?’
“She said it is for the gown that the nurses wear. So I said, ‘Why didn’t you tell me about this?’ If they had informed me, I would have brought him to a private clinic,” the woman, who declined to be named, told CodeBlue.
She even escalated her complaint to the management of Assunta Hospital, but was left with no choice but to pay the PPE charges.
“Patient was attended immediately by the Emergency Department staff nurse and Medical Officer. The patient’s health was prioritized, thus the verbal consent pertaining PPE charges were left secondary,” an officer from Assunta Hospital’s patient relations department told the Malaysian patient in an email on June 4.
“A total of 2 PPE sets were used and charged. The charges as noted in the itemised bill are in accordance with the range prescribed by Assunta Hospital’s Fee Schedule. With this, kindly take note that the outstanding of RM500.00 remains valid,” added the email that was sighted by CodeBlue.
But the woman claimed that her father was made to sit outside for almost 10 minutes and that his case was not considered an emergency.
Expat Patient Charged RM313 For Staff’s PPE
Another Assunta Hospital patient, a 38-year-old expatriate from Italy named Briglia Andrea, complained about being charged RM642.30 to stitch up a sliced finger on June 7, including RM313 for PPE used by a doctor and nurse.
The RM313 for hospital staff’s PPE, listed as “equipment charges” on Andrea’s medical bill, exceeded the RM83 procedure fees, RM64 fee for radiology services, RM47 price for drugs and medicine, and every other item on the bill.
On June 7, Andrea hurt his finger by ceramic and experienced a deep cut on his finger. His wife quickly rushed him to Assunta Hospital.
“When I reached the hospital, there were nurses outside who told me that ‘Sir, be aware we are going to charge 300 plus ringgit for the PPE’.
“At that time, I didn’t have much time to argue, because I was bleeding. I don’t have much time to think and go around the hospital and look for the cheapest option. So, I went in and I received the treatment. They stitched my finger and I paid the bill, which amounted to a total of RM642,” Andrea told CodeBlue.
Andrea went to Assunta Hospital again on June 9 for a follow-up appointment. He walked away from that session when he was told that he would be charged another RM300 for hospital staff’s PPE.
CodeBlue contacted the patient relations unit of Assunta Hospital for clarification on this issue.
“On behalf of Management of Assunta Hospital, we would like to inform that all our PPE charges are within statutory guidelines. Our isolation / CPE consists of a blue apron, face shield, N95 mask, boot covers and a pair of gloves,” a patient relations manager told CodeBlue yesterday.
CPE is believed to refer to collective protection equipment. A survey conducted by CodeBlue on online shopping platform Shopee Malaysia revealed that the retail price of a set of PPE, comprising the items as stated by Assunta Hospital, costs approximately RM70 to RM100. Hospitals, however, likely pay below retail prices for products like protective gear as these would be purchased in bulk.
Andrea has been staying in Malaysia since 2010 and works in the chemical construction industry. He is unsure if he can make a claim for a reimbursement of the PPE charges under his insurance policy.
“Someone who is looking for care shouldn’t be charged like this by a hospital; the hospital should be able to cover their cost,” he told CodeBlue.
“I don’t want other people caught in the same situation and are taken advantage of. I thought, that was my duty to do this…to get awareness,” Andrea said in explaining why he was bringing the issue to light.
Last month, a private hospital was fined RM200,000 by the Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Ministry for charging a patient above the ceiling price for three-ply face masks. The patient was billed RM201.60 for 18 pieces of three-ply face masks used by nurses during treatment, which breaks down to RM11.20 per mask, nearly 10 times higher than the government’s ceiling price of RM1.50 per mask.
The only PPE item under a government-mandated ceiling price is face masks, with a maximum retail price of RM6 per unit for N95 face masks.
The Association of Private Hospitals of Malaysia previously said private hospitals were not retail outlets. Section 4 of the Price Control and Anti-Profiteering Act 2011 states that maximum, minimum, or fixed prices can be determined by the government for the “manufacturing, producing, wholesaling or retailing of” goods.
Unlike pharmacies, for example, which sell items like face masks directly to people for their own use, hospitals charge patients for PPE not for use by patients themselves, but which are used by staff treating them instead.