Despite subsidies, most Malaysians still save money for healthcare, survey finds

Malaysians set aside money for medical expenses despite the availability of free or subsidised public healthcare, a survey found. — File pic
Malaysians set aside money for medical expenses despite the availability of free or subsidised public healthcare, a survey found. — File pic

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KUALA LUMPUR, June 3 — A majority of Malaysians target setting aside money for medical expenses despite the availability of free or subsidised public healthcare, a survey of Asian investment and saving habits has found.

Manulife Asset Management’s “One step forward, half a step back: Meeting financial goals in Asia” report in its Aging Asia series also found that out-of-pocket healthcare spending in Malaysia has risen 11.9 per cent per annum over the past five years due to a shortage of doctors in public hospitals.

“While the public healthcare system in Malaysia is known for providing high-quality care, it suffers from a shortage of resources,” said the Manulife Asset Management report released this month.

The report noted that Malaysia only has 1.2 doctors per 1,000 residents, less than half of the OECD average of more than three, and that only 40 per cent of these doctors service the 75 per cent of hospital beds in the public healthcare system in Malaysia.

“This results in often long wait times in the public system and incentivises residents to turn to the private healthcare industry, where much higher user fees – which rose further on 1 April 2015, when private medical bills became subject to a 6 per cent Goods and Services Tax (GST) – buy access to the 60 per cent of the nation’s doctors who service less than 25 per cent of its available beds,” the global asset manager added.

The Manulife Asset Management report said almost 50 per cent of Malaysian investors rank healthcare among their top five financial goals, including preparing for both expected and unexpected medical expenses

“As in Hong Kong, this seems strange in a country where all legal residents have benefited from publically provided and heavily subsidised healthcare,” it said.

The report noted a potential for Malaysia’s healthcare services to move towards the direction that Hong Kong is heading, where both public and private systems merge in a hybrid.

“Some claim that this system is already evolving, as local governments have reportedly taken stakes in private hospital chains in recent years,” said Manulife Asset Management.

National news agency Bernama reported Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak as saying last February that Malaysia’s government healthcare fees are the cheapest in the world, with the health subsidy in the country at 98 per cent.

He was quoted saying that patients only need to pay RM1 to see a doctor in public hospitals or clinics for outpatient services and that medicine is given out free.

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