LETTER | Your writer KB Phar is incorrect to suggest that Malaysia's health care is sick (sic).
For decades now, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has acknowledged our public health care with various accolades and letters of commendation for its vast coverage that reaches even the most rural areas.
At almost every level of public health care from vaccination, to epidemic control, mortality markers, to even the rapid discovery of the new Nipah virus to maternity health and even centres of excellence e.g. Institut Jantung Negara, we have done well, in the eyes of WHO.
The private sector is no less impressive, with its growth and scope of services, providing superb medical expertise that serves the whole Asean region, and with visitors as far as the United Kingdom and Middle East who come for the privileges and treatment from excellent "affordable" health care centres while enjoying tourism in beautiful Malaysia.
The expatriate population often gives our health care thumbs up for its excellent services that have contributed to Malaysia's high placing among the world’s best nations for retirement.
Individually, we often receive letters of appreciation from ambassadors and expatriates expressing thanks that their lives were probably saved because they were here rather than back home in their own countries.
Many expatriates have written back to say that they were very pleased with the health care they received for less than half of what it would have cost them back home.
Even for dental health care, many people – especially from the US – come here for implants and other complex procedures that are performed at very reasonable costs.
Malaysian patients who have fallen sick abroad, especially in the United States, can attest to shocking bills for five-figure sums for just a few days’ stay even in a normal ward. My own overnight stay in a small Japanese hospital for overnight observation without treatment or medication came up to four figures.
Thus, in terms of costs, one must compare apples with apples. Yes, private health care in India is cheaper than Malaysia; but also consider that of Singapore, Hong Kong, or the United States.
If we do an itemised breakdown, we will realise that private health care here is so much cheaper than in many centres in the world.
A visit to the family practitioner in Malaysia costs perhaps RM50 at the most, and a visit to the specialist is capped at RM245. It can cost easily ₤200 to see a family practitioner, and ₤500 for a specialist in the United Kingdom and US$2,000 for specialist consultation in the United States, excluding medications.
The high cost in private health care everywhere in the world is from intensive care units, specialised procedures and investigations. Some of the implants and devices run into four figures.
Even our royalty, rich businessmen, multimillionaires and politicians are happy to receive their care locally, despite their ability to seek treatment abroad.
Do we complain when a Mercedes Benz 280E that was RM36,000 years ago now costs RM400,000 or more, or if a bungalow that was once only RM250,000 is now RM5 million?
In fact, inflation is a major factor. The 50 sen haircut has jumped to RM15 over five decades, while the plate of chicken rice too, from 50 sen to RM8 now; the pair of trousers and spectacles from just RM15 is now easily RM 300. However, general practitioners who charged RM15 five decades ago, are still being "forced" by corporate giants to accept the same RM15, or even less in some smaller companies.
Nevertheless, as a medical practitioner with charity in my heart, I would still echo the new minister's sentiments that we must look into containing the costs of private health care in the country. However, it is not necessarily always the doctors’ fees, as that may just be only 10 percent of the total bill.
For that, we must look to the owners, and most of the health care centres in the country are government owned – Malaysia Incorporated, and a rich Southern state.
In conclusion, health care in Malaysia is not “sick” but is, in fact, vibrant, healthy and affordable.
The public health care sector which is a role model for the world, saw a budget rise to RM27 billion for 2018. Yet it runs on a budget that is 3 percent less than the WHO’s recommendation that state healthcare be allocated 7 percent of the nation’s budget.
Public health care in this country is complemented by a bustling, if not booming private health care sector, which is still affordable and much cheaper than that of the West.
Where do we go from here?
We look towards the new Minister of Health, and the new government for fresh ideas, transparent policies and eradication of corrupt practices, so that the future will augur well for the nation and its citizens.
DR SNG KIM HOCK is the former president of the Association of Specialists in Private Medical Practice Malaysia.
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.