Why bring us closer to US-style healthcare, ex-MP asks on MySalam scheme

PSM’s Dr Michael Jeyakumar says Malaysia has a better public healthcare system than the US, despite its smaller budget. (Bernama pic)

PETALING JAYA: A former MP has added to criticism of the government’s insurance scheme for the bottom 40 (B40) group, saying Putrajaya should focus on expanding the existing healthcare system instead of moving the country closer to a “US-style” structure.

Drawing comparisons with the US system, Dr Michael Jeyakumar said there, different insurance companies sell different products to the people who need to be insured in order to receive healthcare.

“Insurance in the US, like insurance here, is risk-rated. So if you are older, you have to pay more; if your family has a history of diabetes, you pay higher premiums.”

He said Malaysia, on the other hand, had a good public healthcare system in place, better than that of the US despite Putrajaya’s smaller budget.

“In the US, those who do not have much money have to take a minimum coverage plan. Many Americans are under-covered and cannot afford full insurance coverage,” the PSM central committee member told FMT.

Some 27 million Americans were reported uninsured in 2016.

Jeyakumar, who was the MP for Sungai Siput, said the MySalam health insurance scheme would push Malaysia towards a similar scenario where private insurance companies are allowed or even encouraged to cover health costs.

“This would leave the people with patchy insurance coverage,” he added.

The MySalam scheme, which will cover 3.7 million people from the B40 group, will be funded by RM2 billion contributed by Singapore-owned Great Eastern Life.

Although Great Eastern Takaful Bhd will administer the scheme, Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng said the 3.7 million expected to benefit from it are not Great Eastern customers.

He also assured that their data would be protected under the Personal Data Protection Act.

However, Jeyakumar said if Great Eastern was administering the scheme, it would have access to the data in question which could be used in future attempts to approach the B40 group.

He urged the government to clarify the nature of the data to which Great Eastern would have access.

He also voiced concern over a statement on the MySalam website that participating insurers will work with Bank Negara Malaysia and the finance ministry to introduce approved products for the B4 group.

“We could end up with a situation where those in the B40 group think it is worth it to pay an extra few hundred a month for more insurance coverage. You would be pulling people deeper into private insurance schemes,” he said.

He added that MySalam was not even “proper health insurance” and that those under the scheme would only receive RM8,000 if they are diagnosed with any of the 36 covered diseases.

“But it will open the entire population to further attempts by insurance companies to reach the B40 market.

“We are against what happened in the US, which spends 17% of its gross domestic product (GDP) on healthcare with results that are not so good.

“We only spend less than 5% of our GDP, so if we stick to our system and increase funding from tax revenue, that would be better.”

Think tank Galen Centre for Health and Social Policy also questioned how the data of the 3.7 million people would be protected from commercial exploitation as Great Eastern would have access to those enrolled in the scheme as well as the Bantuan Sara Hidup programme.

“There is a valid concern that Great Eastern will have the ability to promote its insurance or takaful products directly to the B40 group without competition,” Galen chief executive Azrul Mohd Khalib told FMT.