Move to scrap private wings welcomed

CAP welcomes the announcement by Health Minister Dr Chua Soi Lek that the plan to build private wings in government hospitals has been scrapped.

When the plan was proposed earlier, CAP had voiced its concerns on a number of occasions to the Health Ministry. We feared that discrimination between paying and non-paying patients would take place. There would be a tendency for medical staff to give more attention to paying patients, while the poorer ones would be short-changed. We also believed the move would open the door to corrupt practices.

Operating costs for the Health Ministry is said to have risen drastically in the past 10 years. The plan for the private wings was proposed as one way of increasing revenue for the government as well as to stop the brain drain of doctors to the private sector.

One way of immediately increasing the revenue for the government will be to increase the current charge of RM1 for outpatient treatment at government health facilities.

Based on the 1998 total outpatient attendances at government health facilities, simply raising the outpatient rate to RM5 could bring in at least another RM100 million, which could go towards financing the healthcare system further.

In-patients who can afford to pay for treatment at government hospitals should play their part in easing the burden on the government. Third-class patients can continue to be charged nominal rates for specialist and in-patient treatment.

However, these charges can be raised slightly, where appropriate, to bring in more revenue. Those who cannot afford to pay full rates should be given discounts or, in the poorest cases, free treatment.

Patients in the first and second-class wards should pay a greater percentage of the costs of treatment, although the fees should be reasonable. This system actually constitutes a national health service, in which taxpayers as a whole help to finance the health care of the population that uses the public-sector system.

The poor in turn will have an effective 'insurance cover' paid by taxes.

The author is president of Consumers Association of Penang.