More bucks for health but no long-term plan to address rising costs

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A think tank specialising in issues of public health has welcomed the increased allocations for the health sector as announced in the 2019 Budget today, but questioned the absence of any long-term solution to healthcare financing.

The Galen Centre for Health and Social Policy, while praising the government for announcing a slew of measures that would transform Malaysia’s health sector from “a sickness service to a health and well-being service”, said the budget should also have announced a social health insurance scheme for all in view of the rising medical costs.

“In order to ensure that Malaysia’s healthcare system is able to continue to provide quality, affordable and accessible health services in the decades to come and tackle the challenges of preventing and treating NCDs, the government must summon the will and commitment to invest now in a new sustainable approach to funding healthcare,” Galen chief executive Azrul Mohd Khalib said in a statement.

“We did not hear that today.”

Azrul also questioned the RM8,000 annual allocation under the proposed national B40 Health Protection Fund, to cover four critical illnesses.

He said the sum was inadequate.

“It is at best a stop-gap measure at the primary care level as patients will be inevitably forced to move to public healthcare for further treatment. Once they are referred to a public healthcare facility, these patients will be unfairly imposed with First Class treatment charges as required under the Fees (Medical) (Amendment) Order 2017,” said Azrul.

He said unless the laws were amended, those under the scheme could end up as victims.

“It might actually be more advantageous for B40 households to not enrol, to access primary care services through public facilities as they do now.”

Azrul however welcomed the allocation of some RM29 billion for health, saying it was the highest ever for the sector, adding that the previous government had also been incrementally increasing the health budget.

“It is almost RM29 billion, an increase of 7.8% compared to this year and making up almost 10% of the overall budget,” he said.

Out of the RM29 billion, some RM10.8 billion is allocated to provide medicine, upgrade, and improve the quality of health services at clinics and hospitals.

Galen said the bigger allocation for the purchase of drugs was good news in the wake of complaints of medicine shortage in government hospitals for diseases such as hypertension, heart disease and diabetes.

“These shortages affected those most vulnerable such as senior citizens, pensioners and those in the B40 and even M40 households who can afford no other choice and depend solely on public healthcare for treatment,” it said.


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