PUTRAJAYA: Malaysians will pay more to visit private practitioners from today under a 14.4% across-the-board hike that may further increase next year with the implementation of the Goods and Services Tax (GST). The minimum consultation fee will increase from RM10 to RM11.40 and the maximum from RM35 to RM40.05. However, doctors are free to charge any amount they wish, even billing below the RM10, as long as they do not exceed the ceiling rate. Specialists will also be able to charge higher rates under the approved fee schedule. It is understood that the ministry may review the fee schedule after April 1 next year when the GST comes into force. Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr S. Subramaniam said the hike is the first in 12 years as the last revision was in 2002. "This decision was made after consulting various ministries and stakeholders, and the fee revision was approved by the Cabinet on Oct 12, 2012," he said today, adding that it was done under an amendment to the 13th Schedule of the Private Healthcare Facilities and Services (Private Hospitals and Other Private Healthcare Facilities) Regulations 2006. Speaking to reporters after a post-Cabinet meeting, he said that the ministry felt the increase is appropriate as healthcare costs had escalated over the years. He said the increase was long overdue with the ceiling specified to protect consumers from being overcharged by doctors. "This mechanism needed to be enforced for the benefit of Malaysians as they will know exactly how much they can be charged," he said. Dr Subramaniam said the new rate schedule was "much lower" than the rate proposed by the Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) which had asked for a 30% hike, which would have meant that consultation fees would increase to between RM13 and RM45.50. The MMA had last year asked for the increase in consultation and procedural charges, but shelved its proposal after a public outcry. Dr Subramaniam said the country's healthcare is more affordable than its counterpart in the region and with the overall safety, political stability, hospitality and attractive packages reinforced to make Malaysia a medical hub in the region. Therefore, he added, the ministry is of the view that the increase of 14.4% is more appropriate than the proposed 30%. He also pointed out that the market forces are expected to ultimately determine the fees. "Prudent and discerning public are encouraged to seek treatment at the private facilities charging reasonable rates that are permitted by the recent amendments," he said. Patients can also request for itemised bill if from private practitioners if they want to know how much they have been charged for consultation and procedures.