According to the Pharmaceutical Services Programme’s Medicine Prices Monitoring in Malaysia Survey Report 2017, medicine prices and mark-ups in Malaysia are higher than elsewhere. - NSTP/File pic (Image shown is for illustration purposes only)

MALAYSIA is one of the countries that provide universal healthcare in public hospitals and clinics.

But 54 public hospitals are a bit of a stretch for its 32 million people. Even if we shave off the T20 (top 20) income group from this number, we are left with 25 million of the B40 (bottom 40) and M40 (middle 40) who will be stressing the public healthcare system to no end.

Affordability and accessibility are of growing concern too. Mercer Marsh Benefits (MMB) confirms this in a survey it conducted last year involving 62 countries.

There may be 183 private hospitals with 13,000 beds and more than 7,000 private medical clinics in the country, but these are beyond the means of many. Certainly for the 12 million in the B40 income group.

Consider healthcare inflation. Malaysia recorded 11.6 per cent in 2017, the fourth highest among 11 Asian countries. Only Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam were higher at 14.3 per cent, 12.4 percent and 11.8 percent, respectively.

MMB projected Malaysia’s healthcare inflation to reach 12.5 per cent last year.

And the reasons: increasing demand on the healthcare system as more and more people fall ill; falling ringgit; and a spike in the ageing population. The country’s healthcare expenditure, too, is spiralling.

An estimate last year put it at RM2,840 per capita. This tells two things: Malaysia is spending more on healthcare, which is good. After all, health is wealth. The bad news is, soaring per capita expenditure means costly healthcare.

According to the Pharmaceutical Services Programme’s Medicine Prices Monitoring in Malaysia Survey Report 2017, medicine prices and mark-ups in Malaysia are higher than elsewhere.

This is because of unfair pricing resulting from imperfect market competition. The survey’s conclusion? Policies and regulations are needed to provide fair pricing for the people.

As the World Health Organisation says, fair pricing and effective financing are pillars to equitable medicine access and universal health coverage.

It is for this reason one looks towards the Health Ministry to come up with monitoring and regulatory strategies that ensure fair pricing and affordable medicines.

Understandably, many Malaysians were elated to learn about the cabinet’s green light to the ministry’s move to regulate drug prices. But spanners are heading the way of such a plan. And they are, as expected, coming from the private sector.

Our advice to the Health Ministry is: stick to the plan to find a solution that fits all.

The government cannot just please the private sector at the expense of the people.

After all, the government’s plan is to take the average of the three lowest prices in the market.

The New Straits Times is very clear in its view: the government is doing the right thing by keeping the prices of drugs affordable.

Throwing a spanner in the works would only hinder Malaysia from providing universal healthcare, a target that we signed up to provide by 2030 under the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

The private sector should know that making things affordable is a noble goal.

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