Sunday, December 5, 2010

Medical debt: Govt must find a long-term solution... by S. AUGUSTUS JEREMIAH

LETTER OF THE WEEK:  Medical debt: Govt must find a long-term solution

NST: 2010/12/05
Kuala Lumpur

IT is high time that the government acknowledged and took responsibility for the long-term healthcare of its citizens. 
Healthcare cannot be left to the private sector as it is profit driven. As was pointed out in your report ("Waist-deep in medical debt" -- Nov 28),

26 per cent of the RM4.8 billion debt and non-performing loans that the AKPK (Credit Management and Debt Counselling Agency) was managing was because of bills incurred at private hospitals. This does not include debtors who did not come to AKPK for help.

A recent report by the World Health Organisation cited a Harvard University study that found that 62 per cent of family bankruptcies were caused by medical bills (NST, Nov 23).

This is the same trend that will be experienced by Malaysia unless the government steps in and takes action. Personal medical insurance is not a long-term solution to the high charges of private hospitals.

Hospitals charge more when patients are covered by insurance. Insurance companies in turn keep raising their premiums. The losers are the patients and policyholders who remain healthy. Furthermore, when insurance plans are purchased, there are annual limits and lifetime limits.

What seems like a reasonable package will not be sufficient in 10 to 15 years because of inflation in the cost of medical services. By that time, one may not have the option of increasing the insurance coverage because of poor health. Again, the loser is the individual.

Private hospitals are also known to charge for two full days when a patient has been discharged in about 30 hours. This is another area that needs attention.

The problem of long-term healthcare at reasonable cost will be compounded by the lack of pension funds and annuities in Malaysia.

The percentage of non-government employees is increasing and they will be retiring without pensions. There are insufficient incentives and tax relief to promote savings for old age. Thus, this group will also have difficulty in meeting their medical needs.

The government can use Khazanah Nasional Berhad, Permodalan Nasional Berhad, the Employee's Provident Fund and the Social Security Organisation to provide and manage health services at a reasonable rate. If nothing is done, we will witness massive social problems because of unresolved health and old-age issues.

Read more: LETTER OF THE WEEK: Medical debt: Govt must find a long-term solution

Medical debt: Get insurance early in your career

Kuala Lumpur
YOUR article about people who are waist-deep in medical debt is a wake-up call to people to take good care of their health. This is because if they fall ill, they might be unable to pay their medical bills. Nothing is free when it comes to medical treatment. You will have to pay through your nose if you want to have the care that only private hospitals can provide.

The mushrooming of private hospitals in the country is an indication that middle-income earners can afford to go to private hospitals when they fall ill. But the superior medical care and treatment from specialist doctors will cost them an arm and a leg.

Those who cannot afford the high fees of private hospitals have no choice but to seek treatment at government hospitals.
These are usually overcrowded and service is slow compared with private hospitals, although you pay only a fraction of the cost for treatment.

To avoid the pitfalls of having to pay high medical costs, it would be wise for young men or women who have started working to invest in medical care cards offered by insurance companies to cover their major medical expenses.

Remember, the younger you are, the less premium you have to pay monthly for your insurance as compared with those who subscribe to medical cards when they are older.

One can really empathise with people without medical cards.

They have to use their hard- earned savings that they have put aside for retirement or are forced to use credit cards to pay the high costs at private hospitals. This may cause them to go bankrupt if they do not manage their finances well.

Prevention is better than cure. One should take good care of one's health so that one won't be burdened with medical fees in the autumn of one's life. As the saying goes, health is better than wealth.

Read more: Medical debt: Get insurance early in your career

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