Why break a perfectly decent public healthcare system?


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Why break a perfectly decent public healthcare system?
By Zan Azlee

Generally, Malaysia has a pretty good healthcare system in the sense that anyone who is a citizen can have access to affordable healthcare. The government hospitals and clinics are funded by a subsidised system that ensures prices remain within reach.

If you are admitted, the cost for the wards are not something of great concern, and you can even choose different classes. Third class may not be as comfortable as first class, but that is relative and at least the medical service is still the same.

Of course, the private healthcare industry is also thriving and private hospitals are mushrooming around the country very rapidly. But that is an option for the people. You will have to pay a much higher fee if you want the luxurious comfort of a private hospital ward.

But in all personal honesty, a Malaysian wouldn’t even need health and medical insurance because of the accessibility of government medical services. Yes, the lines can be long sometimes, but you’ll still get there.

However early this week, the Health Ministry made an announcement that might be an indication that the priority of providing affordable healthcare to the people might by dropping. The medical and ward charges for patients in first and second class will be increased come January 2017.

An estimated 75 percent of Malaysians choose to get treatment from government hospitals while 25 percent choose private hospitals. According to Health Minister Dr S Subramaniam, those who choose to go for first and second class can opt for private hospitals.

However, I would doubt that because it would be quite a big jump even from the first class at a government hospital to a private hospital. Most government first class wards would cost around RM80 a night. Private hospital wards can go as high as RM1,000 a night.

Rumours have indicated that the hike may be up to 50 percent but according to Dr Subramaniam, they have yet to confirm how much of an increase it would be. Whatever the case, there has never been an increase in public healthcare charges since 1982.

The minister also said that the cost to sustain the national healthcare system is increasing and the increase in price is meant to help the government cope with it. He ensures that it will still be affordable and still be subsidised. I believe him.

But as much as I do believe that it is to cope with the rising cost, I don’t believe that that burden should be imposed on patients. Instead of pushing the cost on to the patients, the government has the responsibility to absorb that cost and let it be subsidised from elsewhere.

Yes, subsidise the cost from elsewhere. Cut corners from areas that are of less priority. I’m sure there are many areas that we can think of where spending can be cut, but definitely do not cut corners on healthcare. That is one of the most basic human rights that the government has the responsibility to provide.

What I believe the government needs to do in times when the economy is bad and the financial situation of the country isn’t so good is to start prioritising what areas to spend. We recently had the tabling and passing of the 2017 National Budget by the prime minister.

It is heart breaking to see that our government representatives have decided to slash the budget for two of the most important areas of that, in all logical sense, needs to be at the topmost priority. And these are the education and health sectors.

Sure, we complain that government hospitals aren’t comfortable, that they are always full of people and the lines are long, and we complain that the attendants are not as attentive or nice. All this is in comparison with private hospitals.

But really at the end of the day, what is important is the care and medical service that is given is just as good as private hospitals. And equally important is the fact that it is accessible and affordable to Malaysians no matter who they are.

I am not looking forward to a healthcare system in Malaysia that is profit-driven, a Malaysia where health insurance becomes a necessity and becomes a part of Malaysians’ cost of living. Extra health insurance and private healthcare should be an option and not a necessity.

We can see that the model already in the United States where healthcare is private and if you don’t have insurance, then you could either be denied healthcare or just incur exorbitant fees that would put you in permanent debt and financial crisis if you were to fall ill. It isn’t a good model.

There are better models that we can look to (in fact, we actually have one of the better models in the world) such as in Cuba, Canada and the United Kingdom, where they prove that healthcare can be provided for free, or at least very cheaply through proper subsidisation.

Let’s not let the worse happen to Malaysia. I can’t stress enough that if we already have a model healthcare system that is working well for the people, then let’s not try to worsen it. In times when belts need to be tighten, we tighten around the waist, not around the throat.

———————-

ZAN AZLEE is a writer, documentary filmmaker, journalist and academic. He is thankful that doctors and nurses at a government hospital saved his wife’s life when she almost died during childbirth. Visit FATBIDIN.COM to view his work.

[This article was originally written for and published at Malaysiakini.com]

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