Focus View
Get culprits of unpaid hospital bills
FocusM team | 21 Apr 2017 00:00
WHAT’S all the fuss over unpaid medical bills owed by foreigners at government hospitals? It was reported that patients from 38 countries owed government hospitals RM50.5 mil last year. Of the 1.36 million who sought treatment, 23,595 didn’t pay up.
Is it just an issue of incompetence on the part of those responsible for credit control and financial management or are they conveniently blaming foreigners? If foreigners can owe that sum of money, so can locals. 

Tenaganita, a rights group for migrant labour and women, says raising the deposits for foreign patients is not the solution to the problem. Instead, what we need is a comprehensive policy on migration that clearly spells out the rules and regulations for employers and workers. 

The problem clearly lies with illegal immigrants. They are not usually covered by medical insurance, unlike legal workers for which insurance is compulsory. Thus, the government’s requests to foreign embassies to foot the unpaid bills. Sadly, many embassies don’t.  

But the real culprit could be the inefficiency and incompetence of the hospitals’ administration. How then can one explain Hospital Kuala Lumpur’s (HKL) bill arrears owed by foreigners which increased from RM982,000 in 2012 to RM3 mil last year? 

Good cost management practices would not allow this to happen over four years. Were there checks and balances? Heads must roll, starting with the person in charge of cost management. 

This irresponsible attitude and poor cost management by hospital staff is costing taxpayers dearly. And it is the ordinary man-in-the-street who pays the price. 

Pensioners at government hospitals complain they are given long-term medication for three months compared to six months before due to budget cuts. That means more trips to the hospital. This year, the government tabled a Supplementary Bill, asking for amongst others, RM104 mil more for the Health Ministry.

Some have pointed out rightly that it is inhumane for hospitals to turn away illegal immigrants during emergencies just because they can’t afford to pay. Saving lives and stopping the spread of diseases should be the priority.

But that should not be the excuse to gloss over an ineffective bill collection system. It may be a good idea to make incompetent hospital staff bear a portion of the unpaid bills. 

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