Employers should bear the medical cost of foreign employees

PETALING JAYA: Employers must bear the medical cost for their foreign employees and not have them subsidised by tax payer's ringgit.

The Federation of Malaysian Consumers Associations (Fomca) Secretary General Datuk Paul Selvaraj said tax payers have a right to oppose subsidising immigrants' medical fees as their employers should bear the full cost of healthcare and insurance.

"The public healthcare system is for citizens, it is not right that the government to bear the medical cost for these immigrants, the responsibility should fall on the employer's to bear their medical costs," he said.

Speaking in an interview with theSun, he also said that this could be a grey area for doctors as their principles dictate that they should not refuse treatment to anyone.

"Of course there will be some compassionate grounds where doctors in the public sector will have to treat these patients. It is hard to turn them away, but who is going to bear the cost for their treatment?

It was reported earlier in the week that Sungai Siput MP Dr Michael Jeyakumar filed a leave application for a judicial review over the Health Ministry's guideline on medical fees for foreigners in the country.

He said that the new guidelines would discourage immigrants, both legal and illegal, from seeking medical help as it is too costly and they fear deportation.

Jeyakumar raised the concern that: if neglected, these foreigners might spread diseases like tuberculosis which is currently on the rise in the country.

Selvaraj however, said that the issue of illegal immigrants needs to be stemmed from border control.

"Illegal immigrants are a bigger issue, the authorities need to stem it from the borders, they can't be allowed to enter the country illegally and seek medical treatment on public funds," he said.

The Malaysian Medical Association also echoed the call saying the impetus lies on the employers to provide medical insurance for their workers, which will be used for treatment fees.

"Some employers are reluctant to allow the workers to use the insurance for fear the premium will increase the next year. Such employers should have action taken against them," said MMA president Dr Ashok Philip in an interview with theSun.

Philip also agreed with Jeyakumar's stand on diseases spreading if these immigrants are neglected.

"What Dr. Jeyakumar fears is that the fees may dissuade foreign workers from seeking treatment for infectious diseases until very late, and during the period they are untreated they might spread the disease. This is a legitimate concern," he said.

He also said that there is no question of doctors turning away patients for their inability to pay.

"If the doctor feels that treatment is urgent, there will be no question of turning the patient away for inability to pay – humanitarian principles will be maintained," he said.

Philip also suggested that the health ministry take into consideration re-negotiating rates with insurers given the large number of foreign workers in the country.

Philip also urged for a study to be done by the Health Ministry to ascertain how many illegal foreign workers are actually treated at government hospitals and also to determine the impact fees might have.

He also asked the ministry to make exceptions to their policy, especially when public health is at risk. The MOH guidelines state that there is a charge of RM92 for immigrants whereas illegal immigrants will be reported to the police or the Immigration department.

"The Malaysian Medical Association would suggest to the Ministry of Health to carve out exceptions to the policy of charging foreigners where public health is at risk, as for instance in the treatment of infectious diseases like tuberculosis," he said.

In February last year, Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr S Subramaniam said foreigners were taking about 30% to 40% of the allocation for medical treatment meant for Malaysians.

"They are eating up our medical subsidy," he was quoted as saying.

When contacted, the Ministry of Health declined to comment on the issue.