KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 9 – Bukit Gasing state assemblyman Rajiv Rishyakaran has criticised the injustice in forcing Petaling Jaya residents to pay more for public health care, as the city only has a university hospital, but not a general hospital.
The DAP lawmaker pointed out that Petaling Jaya residents often seek help from him with their medical bills from Universiti Malaya Medical Centre (UMMC) that run up to more than RM5,000 or in excess of RM10,000 – from even the public wing of the university teaching hospital – that are significantly more expensive than Ministry of Health (MOH) hospitals.
For X-rays or MRI scans in elective cases at UMMC, Rajiv said patients need to pay for these investigations in advance, leading them to request financial aid from their elected representatives.
Although the Selangor state government has a scheme called Bantuan Sihat Selangor that helps defray the cost of treatment, such as surgery, on a case-by-case basis, Rajiv said some families are forced to use their savings.
“I think it’s a bit unfair that while everyone suffers long waiting times in the Klang Valley – from Klang to Kajang, everywhere is congested in the Klang Valley – but in this portion of the Klang Valley, your access to government health care is significantly more expensive. So that’s not right,” Rajiv told BFM’s Health & Living segment in an episode aired last Friday.
Rajiv and former Health Minister Dr S. Subramaniam spoke to BFM in the episode co-hosted by BFM producer Tee Shiao Eek and consultant urologist Dr George Lee. This followed Rajiv’s recent interview with CodeBlue, in which the lawmaker told the MOH to construct a general hospital for Petaling Jaya.
While only one public hospital serves Petaling Jaya – which is UMMC – Rajiv pointed out that the “ring of hospitals” around the major city in the Klang Valley comprises MOH hospitals, like Selayang and Sungai Buloh Hospitals in the north, Shah Alam Hospital, and Serdang and Putrajaya Hospitals in the south, as well as Kajang Hospital.
“So Subang Jaya, Puchong, and Sunway to Petaling Jaya – these areas are a bit in the dark spot.”
During the BFM interview, Rajiv suggested that the government even out the price of health care between public hospitals run by MOH and those run by the Ministry of Higher Education (MOHE).
“It should be fair. If we don’t have enough money to provide the same MRI scans to everyone who’s in need of an MRI scan, then everyone should pay a little bit more to make the numbers work,” he said.
“But now, it’s a case where if you are in a different part of the country – you pay significantly less if you’re in Klang or if you’re in Seremban than if you’re in PJ.
“People [PJ residents] are starting to go to Sungai Buloh Hospital, Serdang Hospital. If you have a car, you can do so. If you don’t have a car, it’s difficult. Can you imagine – going for your treatment or follow up-visits that take 45 minutes to another public hospital – it’s going to be challenging.”
While Rajiv acknowledged the ubiquity of private hospitals in Petaling Jaya that can be afforded by upper middle income residents, he said the city still has plenty of “price-sensitive” lower-income households who are “priced out of health care”.
His constituency of Bukit Gasing alone has about 100,000 residents, while the entire city of Petaling Jaya in Selangor, the country’s most developed state, has an estimated 700,000 population.
During the BFM podcast, Dr Subramaniam highlighted the discrepancy in government funding between university and MOH hospitals, noting that Kuala Lumpur Hospital (HKL) with about 2,300 beds gets some RM1.3 billion to RM1.5 billion, three times more than a university hospital, with over 1,600 beds, that gets federal funding of RM450 million to RM500 million.
Rajiv, however, argued that even if the government were to substantially increase funding for UMMC to be equivalent to MOH hospitals, the university hospital is already overcrowded as it was designed to receive 600,000 patients annually, but it’s now seeing an excess of 900,000 patients.
“If we rectify the pricing discrepancy, that demand is going to go up to maybe 1.2 million patients a year for a hospital designed for 600,000 people.”
The DAP lawmaker added that UMMC doesn’t just serve Petaling Jaya, but also Kuala Lumpur, such as Kerinchi that is nearer to the university hospital than to HKL.
Hence, rather than expand the current UMMC facility, Rajiv suggested building a new hospital in Sunway or Desa Mentari that is much nearer to the lower-income population in Petaling Jaya, about half an hour away from UMMC.
“Rather than centralise one very huge university hospital at its current location, we could have the current university hospital maintain its size, reduce its price to be comparable to a general hospital, and we could have the extra building built as a second hospital, maybe in Taman Medan.
“I’m not even asking for it to be in my constituency.”
BFM producer Tee pointed out to Rajiv that building a general hospital for Petaling Jaya would likely require “poaching” staff from other government facilities, due to staffing issues in the public health care system nationwide.
“‘Poaching’ would not be the fair word to describe the situation, but ‘balancing’ – balancing the resources that we have. As the Ministry of Finance is able to allocate resources to the MOH, those resources should be allocated throughout all 32 million people in the country as fairly as possible,” Rajiv replied.
“Not one area gets premium treatment, and not another area gets differentiated lower standard treatment.
“I understand we can’t get to a higher level immediately overnight. There’s a huge financial gap between the service we provide today and the service that we want to aspire to. But in the meantime, as we slowly make that journey towards the higher level, let’s also do it in a manner that’s fair throughout the country.
“I see PJ as being disadvantaged to other parts of the Klang Valley.”