The decision to increase consultation fees and the cost of medical procedures was officially gazetted by the government last December. But it was only a few days ago when it was reported by the media.
The government claimed that the original petition of doctors was to raise fees by about 30 percent. In the end, the Health Ministry only approved an increase of 14 percent. Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr S. Subramaniam assured the public that the decision would prevent the charging of very high fees during medical consultations:
Those (in the fee schedule) are the maximum rates. We are protecting the people from being charged exorbitantly by the private sector.
According to the Malaysian Medical Association (MMA), the last increase in medical fees was more than 12 years ago:
The fee increase is acceptable as we have been waiting for a raise since 2002.In the interim everything has gone up – drugs, lab fees, petrol, sugar, wages, toll, taxi and bus fares, grocery, vegetables – except doctors’ fees.
The truth is they (doctors) are scraping the bottom of the barrel these days. Over 500 individual stand-alone general practitioner clinics have closed down or have been bought over by large chain clinics or business corporations.
MMA president Dr NKS Tharmaseelan also clarified that fees paid to doctors constitute a tiny portion of total hospital cost:
While the doctor's fee is fixed, other charges are not – bed charges, room charges, overtime charges, intensive care unit charges….
When one gets a massive bill, the doctor is blamed for the fee which forms only a minuscule portion of the total.
But for Wangsa Maju MP Dr Tan Kee Kwong, the hike in medical fees would be another burden for the people:
As a former medical practitioner, I feel this drastic price increase is not warranted… the rakyat (people) are already suffering from all kinds of price hikes.
Meanwhile, the Federation of Malaysian Consumer Associations demanded an improvement in the delivery of health care in the country:
The notion is that private healthcare provides better services. But among the complaints were poor treatment by doctors, failure to disclose reasons for treatment, unnecessary tests to bill customers and wrong dosages (of medicines).
So, with the increase in fees, they must justify how their services have improved.
The alternative news group Malaysiakini highlighted some comments related to the issue:
Isaiah: We won't die of the sickness but from the heart attack that comes upon seeing the medical bill.
TehTarik: The fees of every profession, from lawyers, accountants, engineers, IT specialists, managers, bankers, etc, have gone up by anywhere from 30 to 40 percent over the past 12 years. So what is wrong if the doctors fees are raised by 14 to 18 percent?
Debates are expected to continue whether the increase in medical fees was just and transparent. Critics of the government would probably cite the issue as proof of the failure of the state to provide adequate social services to the poor.