New ways needed to finance public health system, say doctors

Dr Ariffin proposed, the current fees at public health facilities should be increased from RM1 and RM5, which was still a reasonable amount.

Fazleena Aziz and Junaid Ibrahim

Fazleena Aziz and Junaid Ibrahim

the star


June 14, 2023

PETALING JAYA – The country needs new ways to finance its public healthcare system to achieve the targets set out in the Health White Paper, says public health medicine specialist Datuk Dr Zainal Ariffin Omar.

He said this following the revelation that the fee structure at the Health Ministry’s public healthcare facilities would be reviewed and would be based on the patient’s income level.

“The government has to look for new ways to finance our health system and to allocate more than the current annual health budget – maybe double the amount annually.

“The White Paper touches on critical issues of current and future disease burden and escalating health cost to the people and nation,” he told The Star on Tuesday (June 13).

One of the ways, Dr Zainal Ariffin suggested, was to increase “sin tax” from unhealthy products such as tobacco, alcohol, sugar and fats.

He also said current fees at public health facilities should be increased from RM1 and RM5, which was still a reasonable amount.

“We need to develop a system for certain groups like the B40 and M40. We can also have fees from social and insurance schemes for the rest of the people.

“It is time we harmonise the current dichotomy of health delivery between public and private,” he said.

To achieve this, Dr Zainal Ariffin said politicians, policy makers and the public should understand and comprehend the basic issues with the recommended strategies.

This would be a huge task for the government to make people understand and accept some of the issues in the White Paper, he added.

However, he opined fee restructuring may be a sensitive matter as such the new health financing scheme should take into consideration the country’s current political and economic climate.

Malaysian Medical Association president Dr Muruga Rajathurai said among the main concerns addressed in the document were healthcare sustainability and healthcare human resources planning.

He said the White Paper, which sets the direction for our healthcare system, addresses all major concerns over the future of the healthcare system with practical and achievable solutions.

“The White Paper is a comprehensive and well structured document outlining with clarity, its objectives and direction.

“We are confident that its intention and purpose will be carried through even if there are changes in government in the future.

“The 15-year target to carry out reforms is a reasonable time, but milestones need to be set. More importantly, we must be committed to follow through with its recommendations in ensuring reforms are implemented within the time frame,” he said.

Dr Muruga also said they were pleased with the White Paper as it represents the whole of society involving government, medical experts, academicians, civil society groups and the public, including those involved in the healthcare ecosystem.

He urged all MPs to support the White Paper and they were happy to have played a part in the Health White Paper Advisory Council.

Malaysian Private Hospitals Association president Datuk Dr Kuljit Singh said that they welcomed the White Paper where private hospitals would be able to assist the government to manage patients who were waiting for treatment at public facilities.

“We will be happy to refine the details to make the entire process smooth and seamless,” he said.

The White Paper on Health was released in Parliament on Tuesday (June 13).

The 57-page document detailed the healthcare reforms to be implemented in phases over a period of 15 years.

The policy paper addressed various issues related to funding constraints, manpower, facilities and equipment shortages, disease burden, ageing society, mental health issues, climate change and deterioration of the planet as well as the lack of emphasis on the social determinants of health.

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