Govt urged to plan exit from private healthcare

The Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs says the government can be actively involved in the healthcare system while regulating and funding public healthcare.

PETALING JAYA: A think tank has urged the government to consider a planned exit from the private healthcare system, in which it owns stakes through government-linked companies.

Speaking to FMT, Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs director of research Laurence Todd said there was no good reason for the government to have a significant stake in private healthcare.

He gave his support to a recent statement made by Chan Chee Khoon of Citizens’ Health Initiative on the likelihood that the government’s interest in commercial healthcare would give rise to a two-tier system in which only the rich would have access to good healthcare.

He agreed with Chan that there might be a conflict of interest in that the government, while promoting access to treatment, was also seeking to profit from it.

He said this did not mean that the government shouldn’t be actively involved in the healthcare system while regulating and funding public healthcare.

“The government’s active involvement can be positive if it leads to a better partnership between public and private health sectors, such as in collaborating on purchases to get the best possible prices for medicines.”

He said it would be wise for the government to leave private healthcare in stages to avoid disrupting the system as it undertakes wide reforms in healthcare.

Todd also called for a review of government holdings in the private sector to identify non-strategic and counter-productive assets for the purpose of disposing of them.

He said it might be of benefit to the country if the government were to be less active in economic activities and to sharpen its focus on the provision of services.

Klang MP Charles Santiago proposed the establishment of an independent body to regulate private healthcare.

He said such a body should adhere to rules aimed at preventing conflicts of interest.

“In some countries, appointing someone from the business sector to be a member of such a body requires him to have been retired or out of involvement with the business for three to five years,” he said.

He added that academics and retired civil servants could also be members of such a body.

Former Johor DAP chief Boo Cheng Hau said the government should leave private healthcare to the private sector and concentrate on being a policymaker and creating a national health scheme.

He said a national health scheme could be funded through a Socso-like system by contributions from employers, employees and the government.

Primary care would then be provided by general petitioners and pharmacists paid from the national scheme’s fund and the government would continue to run public hospitals functioning as secondary care providers, he added.

Boo also suggested the introduction of a third tier involving charity-run health facilities, funded by members of the public and companies that would get tax breaks as incentives.

He noted that many nurseries and haemodialysis, physiotherapy and old-age care centres were currently run by non-professional charity organisations.

“The government should provide systematic funding and professional advice to these supportive health care centres,” he said.