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RAGING on social media at present is the issue of astronomical hospital bills one may incur for a category 5 Covid-19 infection if managed at a private hospital. Amounts quoted have been in the range of a few hundred thousand Malaysian ringgit.
Not having access to the actual cost incurred by the hospital and not having sighted the breakdown of the total hospital bill, the Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) is not in a position to say if the bill is justified or not.
It does, however, bring to light the high cost of medical care, which has been increasing and will definitely continue to increase, maybe exponentially so. Some users of public healthcare services may not realise it but the cost is high in the public sector too. We don’t see this cost as public healthcare is heavily subsidised by the government.
As for the cost of private healthcare, the minute few at the top of the income bracket may look at a few hundred thousand ringgit as small change – hardly a dent in their bank account – but for the majority who are paying out of their own pocket or rely on a meagre health insurance, a catastrophic health event will be a major blow to them with many hardly surviving the economic disaster, let alone recovering from the illness and being too sick to raise the money for the bill.
We are all too familiar now with Covid-19 as well as the other income-draining diseases like renal failure and cancer, to name a few. There are also other rare and novel diseases that need specialised medication on a long-term basis, which also breaks the bank due to the high prolonged cost. These may not be covered by medical insurance schemes unless a person is fortunate enough to have the means to purchase a costly insurance scheme with almost unlimited benefits – out of the reach of most.
To get into the public health system for such treatments is possible and the Health Ministry does provide for it, although understandably, there is a long waiting list and some may not survive it. We need to wake up now to the reality that a reform of our healthcare system is needed immediately. We need to fix it now before more fall along the wayside on the journey to obtain much needed healthcare.
The current health minister has also been talking about the need for healthcare reforms and we believe that if given the right support, initiation of reforms can happen. Yes, this should be debated in Parliament, but we should not allow it to be all words and no action. Both sides of the political divide need to realise that the time for action is now.
Hopefully, we don’t need another pandemic to tell us that we have been forewarned. The 12th Malaysia Plan (12MP) has touched on various aspects of healthcare but is it enough? Being included in the 12MP should mean that it has all been thought through and well debated.
However, some quarters have come out to say that it is not enough and that more should have been included.