Law seen as unfair to patients moving from private to public hospitals

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KUALA LUMPUR: The government has been urged to undo an amendment to the law that forces cancer patients to pay high rates for treatment at public hospitals if they are referred there from private or university hospitals.

The 2017 amendment to the Fees (Medical) Order makes it mandatory for such patients to be charged first class rates whereas they previously could choose between third, second or first class treatment.

At a forum on cancer yesterday, Galen Centre for Health and Social Policy chief executive Azrul Mohd Khalib noted that the previous government did not explain the rationale for the amendment, but he said it was probably based on the misconception that those who initially go for private healthcare can afford the highest rates at public hospitals.

“But not everyone who opts for private healthcare in the beginning has money,” he said. “Sometimes they shift to public healthcare because they have maxed out their insurance or are no longer employed and can therefore no longer benefit from company insurance.

“There are also times when cancer patients need surgery but the queues at public hospitals are too long. So they go for the surgery in private hospitals and seek to continue treatment at public hospitals.”

In such cases, he said, the patients were helping the government reduce the strain on the public healthcare system and it was thus unfair to punish them and their families with first class costs.

He noted that the difference in rates between referrals from a public and private practitioner would in many cases come up to RM375 but in cases such as stereotactic radiosurgery and stereotactic radiation therapy, the difference could be a staggering RM6,500.

He also urged the government to standardise the fee structure in all government hospitals, regardless of whether they come under the health ministry or, as in the case of university hospitals, the education ministry.

Breast Cancer Welfare Association president Ranjit Kaur described the 2017 amendment as “ridiculous”, saying Malaysians should all be treated equally.

“Just because someone comes from a private or university hospital, he or she shouldn’t have to pay more,” she said.

During the forum, Galen presented a list of policy recommendations to Bandar Utama assemblyman Jamaliah Jamaluddin and to representatives of Petaling Jaya MP Maria Chin Abdullah.

The list recommends, among other things, changes to the 2017 amendment, the benchmarking of Malaysia’s cancer care against international standards, improvements to the collection of national data on cancer, the decentralisation of cancer care and improvements to policies related to public drug procurement.

Galen also launched its Cancer Care Working Group, which will work towards influencing public policies pertaining to cancer treatment. Members of the group include patients and health professionals.