Friday, 27 July 2012

Who charges more – docs or hospitals?

Doctor fees only account for a small amount of a patient's total private medical bill, which experts say, is dominated by other services. 

PETALING JAYA: As far as some are concerned, giving private doctors a raise isn’t a problem.

In fact, experts such as Consumer Association of Subang and Shah Alam (CASSA) president Jacob George feels that this is long overdue.

Doctors in private hospitals, he said, do not get as much money from medical fees as most people thought. The bulk of charges, he said, went to the hospitals themselves.

“It’s been a long time since private doctors have been allowed an increase. If you look at the current pay structure, more than 70% of [private medical fees] go to the hospitals, while the consultancy and physician fee is only about 30%.

“Doctors have actually given large discounts [for their services]. The 70% goes to [services such as] beds, support services, paramedical.

“…Not a lot of people know, but if you look at the breakdown of [charges], a very small figure is put aside to the clinician… A large portion goes to the hospital administration,” he told FMT.

George was speaking on a plan being mulled by the Health Ministry.

According to a recent Star report, its minister Liow Tiong Lai said that private doctors and specialists are likely to see a 14% increase in their fees.

Liow said that doctor fee costs are low when compared to other countries. He did not say when the new fee structure would come into play.

As far as George is concerned, raising doctors’ fees by 14% or even 20% is not an issue, claiming that not all doctors are doing as well as most believed.

He said that doctors here, already fleeing the strenous and less financially rewarding government hospitals, may even run to private hospitals in other countries in search of better pay.

“You already have the first migration, which is from the government sector to the private sector, but what about the second migration… seeing doctors go from private hospitals here to [those] abroad?” he asked.

He added that the government needs to do something to retain doctors here, rather than wait and later try to persuade those who have left the country to come back.

Fees must be controlled

Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM) leader Dr Michael Jeyakumar agreed with George, adding that only “a third” of private medical fees goes to the doctor.

A private doctor himself, Jeyakumar however disagreed with the latter, and said that fees need to be controlled.

“[The hike] will burden people more, but it [doctor's fees] is only one part of a treatment,” he said.
He strongly believes that the crux of the matter is not just regulating the private sector, and that medicine should not be made into a business.

His focus, unlike George’s, is on making government hospitals the primary choice for all Malaysians.
“If the government side is good, like that of the United Kingdom or Hong Kong, where you have quality treatment, the number of people going to private hospitals will go down.

“I’m in the private sector, and a lot of people come to me because they’re scared of being mistreated in government hospitals…Like now, if you have no money, you take the chance and go to the government hospital,” he said.

The Sungai Siput MP claimed that if the government sector is improved, other areas such as doctors’ fees will take care of themselves.

On top of that he also called for the freezing of the private sector, and for the government to refrain from allowing this area to expand further.

At the same time, he said, the government’s health scheme needed to be improved so that their hospitals will become the alternative choice.

Jeyakumar said that government doctors now shared the same service commission as other public officials, and need higher pay scales.

Malaysia has experienced a shortage of doctors for many years; a problem the government has been trying to bandage.

In November 2010, the Health Ministry announced that it will bring in foreign doctors to ease the shortage. It would later add that it is looking at bringing back skilled locals who have moved abroad.

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