The Covid-19 pandemic and the emergence of new variants have shown the need for a better public-private healthcare partnership.
This includes the setting up of a national health insurance scheme.
A Malaysian Armed Forces public health and disaster management expert said such a scheme would ensure that there was a sustainable, long-term solution to address shortcomings in the public healthcare system, which is currently overly dependent on government budgets.
“This (present system) cannot continue. It is time for a solid public-private partnership that will see private healthcare playing a more crucial role, including treating non-Covid-19 patients,” revealed the expert, who requested anonymity.
“Covid-19 is a good example of why we need better public-private healthcare partnerships. At the peak of the crisis last year, government hospitals decanted non-Covid-19 patients to private facilities. But this costs the government a lot, because we do not have such a (partnership) system in place.”
He said arguments that such a system would only benefit private hospitals does not hold water as taxpayers’ money is being bleached at the expense of the quality of service offered at public healthcare facilities.
The expert said while the setting up of Covid-19 temporary quarantine and treatment facilities nationwide was done to prepare for the worst, they continued to exist due to a surge in cases last year, as hospitals were unable to cope.
“We do not have enough beds in hospitals. Even before the pandemic, we were already at 90 per cent capacity at public hospitals.
“Setting up temporary quarantine and treatment facilities proved to be an expensive affair. It cost millions just to run one facility.”
The expert also said the current public healthcare system was not sustainable as it is a subsidised system.
“Even those who can afford to pay are enjoying subsidies, and this is why we need a national health insurance scheme,” he added.
Although such an insurance scheme had been mooted several times over in the past decade – including Barisan Nasional’s ‘1Care for 1Malaysia’ and the ‘Sihat Bersama 2030’ proposal during Pakatan Harapan’s tenure – it never got off the ground due to politics.
“The government must continue to support the B40 group. But this does not mean that those who can pay, should not go to public hospitals. It should be a system where you only go to a private institution if you cannot get a particular service at public hospitals, or vice-versa.
“For example, if a baby is born premature, often there is a hunt nationwide for a ventilator. If you cannot get one at a private hospital, then the baby should be sent to a public hospital. There should be a preparedness on how to address issues,” he said.
Drawing comparisons with medical insurance schemes in Australia and the United States, which he described as “more competent”, the expert said a national health insurance scheme is not meant to replace the universal healthcare system, but to bridge the gap by having alternative healthcare, which is funded by a public-private partnership.
He said such an insurance scheme must be affordable, even for the T20 and M40 groups, and should provide coverage for the whole family.
“A national insurance scheme will cover the basic needs and comprehensive treatment for both public and private healthcare, but people are still entitled to purchase private insurance for premium services,” he added.