Affordable healthcare for all: Govt's 'Skim Perubatan Madani' benefits B40 group

Dr Zaliha Mustafa
19 Jul 2023 10:12am
Pix for illustration purpose only - FILE PIX
Pix for illustration purpose only - FILE PIX

ONE of the key priorities of a compassionate government is ensuring accessible and equitable healthcare for all its citizens, especially the vulnerable and the disenfranchised.

Healthcare issues constantly rank as one of the top concerns for households, especially when disaster strikes a wage earner or when elderly loved ones inevitably succumb to one of the many non-communicable diseases that plague the nation.

The Health Ministry recently launched ‘Skim Perubatan Madani’ (SPM). It was first announced by our Prime Minister and Finance Minister, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim when he tabled Budget 2023 in February. It is an initiative combining public sector support with private sector clinics that seeks to provide essential and basic treatment for acute conditions afflicting those in the B40 group.

Practically, this means that those eligible can seek treatment for common ailments such as cough, a runny nose or fever from private general practitioners (GPs). The cost of this will be borne by the government.

‘Skim Perubatan Madani’ bridges a critical gap in our national healthcare delivery system by allowing those in the B40 group to receive treatment in registered clinics run by GPs - a “luxury” many are unable to afford. To ensure better access, red tape is kept to a minimum – all they need to do is to show up and bring their MyKad to these clinics.

Individuals who are eligible for ‘Sumbangan Tunai Rahmah’ are automatically eligible for the SPM. Under the SPM, each household is allocated RM250. Unmarried elderly individuals are given RM125 and single men or women are given RM75.

Four hundred GPs have registered under the pilot project. This covers ten districts nationwide and is expected to benefit some 700,000 households. In total, this will cost the government RM100 million. If this pilot programme proves successful, it will be expanded.

SPM is not the only initiative under Health Ministry that seeks to improve access to healthcare for marginalised groups. There is also PeKa B40, free cancer screenings and mental health awareness programmes via MyMYNDA, just to cite a few.

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Having said that, I am under no delusion that providing quality and affordable healthcare for all Malaysians in a sustainable fashion can be done via a piecemeal approach. Short-term measures will not improve our healthcare system’s overall prognosis – this requires addressing structural issues. This is where the Health White Paper (HWP) comes into play.

The HWP - a concept paper that looks into systemic and structural reforms to our healthcare system over the next 15 years - was tabled in Parliament last month. Alhamdulillah, it was positively received and approved by both the Dewan Rakyat and the Dewan Negara.

The high level of interest by my fellow Members of Parliament is a reflection of the importance of the issue across the political spectrum.

The HWP is divided into four pillars; namely: transforming healthcare service delivery, advancing health promotion and disease prevention, ensuring sustainable and equitable health financing, and strengthening the health system's foundations and governance.

Programmes like the aforementioned SPM will provide relief to many disenfranchised Malaysians, but the Health Ministry is acutely aware that we need a workable and realistic plan that addresses systemic weaknesses and leverages existing strengths across the healthcare landscape.

This includes utilising existing resources within the private healthcare space, as exemplified by SPM.

The devil, as they say, is in the details. Whilst it was no easy feat to get the HWP pushed through (various versions have been left on the shelves since the early 1980s), even harder work awaits us as we strive to dissect the issues through technical working groups and come up with a prescription that seeks to provide sustainable long-term solutions.

This can only be done by working across silos and bringing together the various stakeholders - patient representatives (especially those representing the less-able), MOH medical and auxiliary staff, private healthcare facilities, teaching hospitals, pharmaceutical and medical devices companies, insurance and financial players, professional and civil society groups - the list goes on.

Programmes such as SPM highlight our priorities and also serve as a reminder of the roadblocks that exist for some of the rakyat in accessing adequate healthcare services. As we strive to narrow these gaps, we must also be cognizant of the fact that there are no quick fixes and that progress comes by working together and not against each other.

I am very open to ideas and look forward to bold and creative proposals that will help us fulfil the vision of both the HWP and that of the government i.e. one in which we can provide care and compassion in a just and sustainable fashion. As long as we remain united in our intentions and vision, I am confident that we will be able to elevate our healthcare system to one that fulfils the needs of every rakyat.

Dr Zaliha Mustafa is the Minister of Health. The views expressed here are her own.