KUALA LUMPUR: From Jan 1, this year, foreigners have begun bearing the full cost of medical treatment at government hospitals and clinics, a year ahead of initial plans.
Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr S. Subramaniam said the ministry revised its healthcare subsidy for foreigners as a cost-cutting measure to weather current economic challenges.
“The government has heavily subsidised foreigners in the past. Following its removal for immigrants, including foreign workers and students, revenue improved tremendously; it is now two or three times higher, since they are paying the real cost of medicines,” he told the New Straits Times yesterday.
Dr Subramaniam said foreign workers who entered the country legally are usually covered by health insurance bought by their employers.
The problem, however, lay with those who entered the country illegally.
Dr Subramaniam was speaking after a visit to the New Straits Times Press’ Balai Berita in Bangsar with the ministry’s secretary-general, Datuk Dr Chen Chaw Min. Present were NSTP group managing editor Datuk Abdul Jalil Hamid, NST group editor Mustapha Kamil Janor, Berita Harian group editor Datuk Mahfar Ali, Harian Metro group editor [email protected] Bachok and NST deputy group editor Yushaimi Maulud Yahaya.
In 2014, the cabinet had agreed to remove the subsidy for foreigners in stages over three years.
The fee was increased by 30
per cent last year and was scheduled to be increased by another 30 per cent this year and 40 per cent next year.
By the end of next year, foreigners were to pay 100 per cent as per the Fees (Medical) (Amendment) Order 2014, which came into effect on Jan 1, last year.
However, Dr Chen said the plan to impose the full fee on foreigners was brought forward in view of the economic situation.
“The government has talked about fiscal consolidation and subsidy rationalisation for a few years now. Subsidies for immigrants had been something we wanted to remove.
“It shouldn’t be given to foreigners and the ministry decided to do away with the subsidy in stages since we are concerned about the wellbeing of the people.
“However, due to the economic situation and since the order empowers the secretary-general to revise the provision, the ministry decided to impose 100 per cent subsidy removal this year.”
Dr Chen said the government, on average, subsidised about 60 to 80 per cent for foreigners.
“For example, patients seeking specialist treatment at government hospitals only pay RM5, when the actual cost is RM40. So, the subsidy is about 86 per cent. This is way below our operational and utilities cost.”
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak had last year said the government not only spent a large amount of money on health facilities, but also charged the lowest fees in the world.
An outpatient needs to pay only RM1, while RM5 is charged if he or she sees a specialist doctor, while medicines are free.
Najib had said the health subsidy in Malaysia was at 98 per cent, which meant that 98 per cent of the cost of each patient was borne by the government.
NST checks at several hospitals in the Klang Valley showed that foreigners were paying the full treatment fee.
A foreign worker from Nepal, who wanted to be known only as Sangkhabadhur, 35, who had gone to hospital for fever twice, had to pay RM80 for medication and an injection.
“I came here as I had not been feeling well for the past few days. I had to pay so much and it is not easy for me, as I am a construction worker who doesn’t earn much,” he said.
Tewa, 48, from Myanmmar, knew that the fee would be increased through his friends.
“My consultation fee was RM100. I still have my medication to pay for and I don’t think I can afford it.”