Minister hails healthcare scheme for poor as success story in PH’s first year

PUTRAJAYA: Health Minister Dzulkefly Ahmad says the Peduli Kesihatan scheme for the bottom 40 or B40 group (Peka B40) has been a game changer throughout the one year since Pakatan Harapan (PH) took federal power in the 14th general election.

He said the scheme had gone beyond addressing common ailments like coughs and colds to tackle the real challenge of healthcare, that is non-communicable diseases (NCDs).

In an interview in conjunction with PH’s first year in power, he said 2,443 had been screened for first visits as of April 29.

“Peka B40 is not just an election manifesto. It is a game changer in addressing NCDs,” he said.

Peka B40, which is fully sponsored by the government, focuses on health screening for those aged 50 and above who receive Cost of Living Aid (BSH), along with their spouses.

It covers health screening, the purchase of medical devices up to RM20,000, a payment incentive of RM1,000 upon completion of cancer treatment, and transport allowance of up to RM500 in the peninsula and RM1,000 in Sabah and Sarawak.

In the interview, Dzulkefly also said the average life expectancy of Malaysians had plateaued at 75 over the last two decades.

He voiced concern over the nation’s avoidable mortality rate of 220 per 100,000 people, higher than that of OECD countries at 95 avoidable deaths per 100,000 people. Even in Sri Lanka, he said, avoidable deaths are 116 per 100,000 people.

However, he hailed the formation of the Health Advisory Council, set up in March to advise the ministry on how to reform the healthcare system.

Dzulkefly is targeting a health budget and expenditure of between 5% and 6% of the gross domestic product (GDP) in four years’ time. He said an upper-middle income country like Malaysia should be spending 6% of GDP.

Healthcare expenditure currently comprises 2.3% from the public sector and 2.2% from the private sector.

“The government has been underspending. We don’t get enough budget for healthcare,” he said.

The Amanah leader also voiced concern over the current tax-based financing system for healthcare, saying it is not sustainable. He said the government should look into whether this practice should be continued or replaced with a social health insurance scheme.

He also spoke of the long queues to see doctors and specialists, and to undergo procedures and elective surgeries, saying these would be used as benchmarks to judge his performance.

“The people may not be aware that there are several policy matters that I need to address. The problems plaguing hospitals and clinics cannot be resolved without a structural upgrade or improvements.”

Adding that improvements had been made, he acknowledged that these are a work in progress.

“Many have yet to be fulfilled. I cannot merely be firefighting and coming up with short-term solutions,” he added.