Focus given to medical, but more needed in private sector

PRIOR to the Budget 2021 tabling by the Minister of Finance Tengku Datuk Seri Zafrul Abdul Aziz on Nov 6, health groups had hoped for a RM36 bil allocation for the Ministry of Health (MOH), considering the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the impact of shortages of medical workers and resources.

It was also expected for Budget 2021 to help the medical industry hire additional permanent health workers, tax deductions for pharmacists and general practitioners (GPs) and increase the fees at public clinics and hospitals.

Falling a bit short on the targeted allocation, the Budget 2021 increased 4% (RM31.9 bil) of its allocation for the MOH compared to last year.

However, medical lecturer, Dr Aidalina Mahmud said frontliners appreciated the continuation of the special allowance of RM600 per month and a one-off payment of RM500.

“It is a gesture that I’m sure they will appreciate. Perhaps there should be other gestures of gratitude that can be given administratively by the top management such as special days off or achievement awards,” she said.

Despite that, there was still a wishlist that should but did not make it to the tabling. The Association of Private Hospitals Malaysia (APHM) urged the Finance Minister and the Government to allocate a special budget that will benefit public hospital patients by allowing them to be treated in private hospitals.

Even before the Budget 2021 was announced, there was a special budget to outsource services at private hospitals for non-COVID-19 patients awaiting treatment.

“Our proposal is to extend the budget beyond December 2020 into 2021 and to increase the quantum. We believe this partnership will be sustainable as there is enough of capacity and resources in private hospitals to assist patients from the public hospitals to be treated earlier,” APHM said in a news article.

The association pointed out that MOH has specific guidelines on outsourcing services which has benefitted patients in 2020. The amount spent on patients treated in private hospitals would be far cheaper than building new facilities.

“We would propose that the savings from this can be channeled to further manage the COVID-19 pandemic in the country, as the private hospitals with this budget will be able to lessen the clinical burden of the public hospitals,” it added.

More inpatients needed

In 2018, private healthcare providers were actively looking at growing their overseas operations as the private hospital segment is losing out to the public hospital sector – both in the inpatient and outpatient segments.

Generally, the private hospitals’ falling market share is expected given their rising fees which are generally higher than those charged by public healthcare providers.

“While some hospitals, especially the bigger ones like IHH Healthcare Bhd, do not rely solely on their Malaysian operations for growth, their domestic operations still account for a huge chunk of their total inpatients,” a research manager told FocusM.

At the time, IHH already had hospital operations in Singapore, India and Turkey.

More consumers are seeking medical treatment at government hospitals as rising private healthcare charges have resulted in many patients exceeding their medical insurance coverage.

“The (increasing) shift in preference for public health services is because the increase in private hospitals’ charges over the years has outpaced most consumers’ medical coverage ceiling,” she added.

“Consumers may not find it financially viable to increase their personal medical coverage to keep pace with rising charges,” said the research manager.

The double-digit growth in claim per policy was largely due to higher private hospital charges, she adds.

With no clear sign of improved consumer spending, she fears private hospitals will continue to lose market share. – Nov 13, 2020

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