KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 10 — Lim Guan Eng today criticised funding cuts to health care services, amid a “deeply insufficient” 4.3 per cent increase of the Ministry of Health’s (MOH) overall 2021 budget.
The Bagan MP and former finance minister from Pakatan Harapan (PH) pointed out that the previous PH administration had raised MOH’s budget by 6.6 per cent to RM30.6 billion for Budget 2020, at a time before the Covid-19 public health crisis struck.
“But in the Covid situation now, it was raised only by 4.3 per cent,” Lim told the Dewan Rakyat during his debate on Budget 2021.
The current Perikatan Nasional (PN) government increased MOH’s budget by 4.3 per cent to RM31.9 billion for next year. MOH’s RM27.2 billion operating expenditure for 2021, which goes towards running the ministry, marked a 2.57 per cent decline, or an RM700 million decrease, from RM27.9 billion in 2020. MOH’s development expenditure, which is for building new projects, almost doubled from RM2.7 billion in 2020 to RM4.7 billion for 2021.
Lim also highlighted funding reductions for public health and various health care services in MOH’s 2021 budget, citing the 74 per cent cut for pharmacy and supplies from RM1.9 billion in 2020 to RM513 million in 2021, after CodeBlue highlighted the budget cuts.
“I feel that this is cruel because at uncertain economic times…it should at least be raised,” Lim said.
“We see that the overall Budget was raised by 8.6 per cent. Why was the Budget increased by 8.6 per cent, but only 4.3 per cent for the health sector?
“We see that many sectors in the aspect of health have also been cut. Supposedly, it went up by 4.3 per cent. Don’t forget that this also includes salary increases. So, in reality, the actual increase, I feel that it looks better than it really is (indah khabar dari rupa). It falls far short of targets to increase health care services for the people.”
He pointed out that the Covid-19 epidemic has raised disease burdens and affected people’s health amid movement restrictions, such as inability to do physical exercise outside. Health advocates have called for Budget 2021 to give greater focus to non-communicable diseases (NCDs) like cancer, warning the government that the burden of disease cost is estimated to be around RM100.79 billion, equivalent to 7.37 per cent of the gross domestic product.
Lim also questioned why the government reduced the allocation for the Covid-19 Fund, which is governed by legislation separate from the federal Budget 2021, from an RM38 billion allocation this year to RM17 billion next year.
According to the Estimated Federal Expenditure 2021, MOH’s allocations reflected wide-ranging cuts across nearly all health care services, including reductions of 78 per cent for nephrology, 67 per cent for cardiothoracic, and 59 per cent for radiotherapy and oncology, as well as a 12 per cent decrease for public health.
MOH then clarified that the allocation of medical supplies based on clinical specialty have been consolidated into two lump-sum budgets totalling RM4.29 billion under Specific Programmes in its operating budget: health facilities’ medical supplies (RM2.89 billion) and private concession of medical laboratories and stores (APPL) (RM1.4 billion). In 2020, MOH’s budget for medical supplies was allocated under each respective programme separately: medical, public health, pharmacy services, and dental.
MOH also told CodeBlue in a statement that it reclassed RM2.065 billion in allocations for hospital support services involving concessionnaires (RM1,928,583,000) and clinic support services (RM137 million) from the operating to development budget. Hospital and clinic support services, however, incur repeated operational costs and do not typically involve building new projects like facilities.