Recently a letter apparently written by a CEO of a health insurance agency detailed the drop in medical claims by 59% for hospital admissions during the movement control order (MCO) period.
This reduction translates to approximately RM500,000 savings per week, or RM2.5 million for the five-week duration of the MCO.
This was ascribed to unnecessary hospital admissions, as critical illness or accidents will still require hospitalisation and treatment.
There are many reasons why medical claims and hospital admissions in private hospitals are down.
The simple answer is that there are less patients attending private clinics or hospitals.
During the MCO, across the board, general practitioners’ patient load nationwide is down by 50%, or some even by 80 to 90%.
This will lead to less referrals to private hospitals for patients who need further specialist management.
Even in private hospitals, many specialists are seeing low patient load and some actually run their clinics or hospital sessions on a part-time basis.
Many private doctors struggle to acquire adequate personal protection equipment or have difficulty in assessing patients adequately with the limited Covid tests available.
Many bravely turn up for work to provide critical services despite their own personal high risk status in a pandemic with so much still unknown.
Many elective surgeries, although necessary, are delayed. This is to prepare for the possibility of government patients needing to transfer to private facilities in case there is an overwhelming surge of Covid-19 patients in government hospitals.
This is the exact reason why the MCO was implemented, to flatten the curve and allow our hospital systems to cope.
Private hospitals are doing their utmost best to ensure our system can cope by making available bed space and even ventilators.
Elective surgery is by no means unnecessary surgery. It just means that we can delay it with careful monitoring of patients to avoid complications. It doesn’t mean that the large cyst or the kidney stones the patient has will disappear by magic!
On the patients’ side, many do not go for check-ups or consultation due to the MCO and the need to stay at home.
This delay may turn out to have severe consequences or even deaths as certain diseases or cancers may be detected at late stages, requiring massive operations or even rendering their illness incurable.
Many patients with chronic non-communicable disease that need hospitalisation delay visiting the hospitals which may lead to irreversible health consequences.
Everyday the MCO is on, the non-Covid related long-term health consequences and even potential deaths from delayed treatment cannot be underestimated.
We have yet to count the costs of all the unintended non-Covid physical and mental health sequelae of the MCO, not to mention the economic devastation to society at large.
The poor, the marginalised and the under-served communities are suffering and paying a high price and some even with their lives.
If this trend continues, for the remaining 40 weeks of 2020, an estimated potential savings of RM20 million can be achieved.
Clearly, the MCO cannot continue for long. Even the 5-6 weeks have exerted untold costs on every level of society that will take years to recover if we ever recover fully.
It is ridiculous to claim that under this artificially imposed lockdown, the reduction in hospital admissions represents unnecessary hospitalisations.
On the other hand, it was also claimed that the residual admissions represents true necessary hospitalisation such as illness or accidents as they do not disappear with the MCO
If everyone is supposed to stay home and there are fewer cars on the road, naturally less accidents would occur as well.
To claim that the savings can be translated to more affordable premiums in the long term, enabling the company to promote more affordable and competitive products and doing more business, doesn’t seem to be appropriate.
The needs and sufferings are immediate and urgent. Many people are in dire straits.
What the insurance industry must do is to transfer all these savings to aid in the pandemic response.
The millions of ringgit in industry savings should be donated to improving Malaysia’s healthcare system and Covid testing capacity, supply of personal protection equipment to all healthcare workers and community efforts in food or financial aid.
That would be the most beneficial contribution the industry can give back to all Malaysians that have supported them over decades.
Dr John Teo is an FMT reader.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.