PUTRAJAYA (Nov 13, 2011): The influx of Singaporeans in Malaysian hospitals following the republic’s decision last year to extend its national medical insurance – Medisave – to include treatment sought here has received mixed reactions.
While the government views it positively in line with medical tourism as the key focus of the healthcare national key economic area (NKEA), consumer associations are more wary of the possible effects.
Health Minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai said the development would not have a negative impact on Malaysians, and would instead bring positive results.
“It will enhance medical treatment in the country by giving the private sector a bigger role to play,” he said, adding it is not a zero-sum game.
“It will attract locals from overseas because when private hospitals are good, they will be able to employ more specialists and our specialists working overseas will come back.
“If we have good doctors coming into the country, it will benefit the locals who choose to seek medical treatment from private hospitals.”
On the possibility that it would result in Malaysians having to pay higher medical bills, Liow said under the Medical Act 1971, the ministry regulates the fees imposed by doctors and specialists, including those in private hospitals.
“We have a fee schedule in the act for all doctors and specialists. There is a range of prices for all kinds of diseases. They would have to follow the schedule accordingly,” he said.
Asked whether the ministry could instruct private hospitals to give preference to Malaysians, Liow said the matter should not arise as treatment should be given to anybody who needs it.
“We cannot simply reject a case. We treat foreigners and locals the same because we are hospitals, looking at diseases and treatments, not the economic aspect. It’s not the way,” he said.
“This government policy is very obvious. We treat everybody who come to us."
He also said the government is encouraging more countries to take similar action under its NKEA entry point projects.
Meanwhile, Federation of Malaysian Consumers Associations (Fomca) communications director Mohd Yusof Abdul Rahman said the move is a good recognition of the Malaysian health treatment industry.
“Usually we hear cases of Malaysians seeking treatment in Singapore as they have better medical services there. But now, we can be proud with this acknowledgement that our hospitals are at par with those in Singapore,” he said.
However, Fomca is worried that it would result in higher medical costs for locals as Mohd Yusof claimed the government has not been strictly enforcing the law on doctors' and specialist fees.
“The government has said it would come up with a specific guideline on fees to be imposed by doctors and the prices of medicines, but until now we haven't seen it.
“We need this guideline so that the government can impose a ceiling price for everything, including charges for hospital facilities such as rooms or wards and machines,” he said.
He also said having more foreigners seeking treatment in the country could result in higher prices of other goods such as food and houses.
Thus, Mohd Yusof suggested that the government impose a levy or tax on foreigners who seek treatment in Malaysian hospitals.