MALAYSIA - While patients complain of high medical fees, private hospitals and managed care organisations deny that they are responsible for the ballooning bills and doctors claim they are struggling to survive.
Reading newspaper reports about doctors asking for higher fees, retiree P. S. Teh feels a sense of dismay. Her particular beef is with private healthcare where, she feels, high prices are already being charged.
And she should know. Recently, her family had to fork out almost RM60,000 (S$23,000) for medical expenses for their 87-year-old mother who was hospitalised at a private hospital in the Klang Valley.
She was warded in the Critical Care Unit (CCU) for a week and then transferred to a single-bed room. In total, she spent 35 days in the hospital.
"My mother did not have surgery, yet the bill came up to a whopping RM59,000 and the bill was very vague," Teh complains, adding that the bill covered, among others, the charges for a nutritionist, physiotherapist, general physician, cardiologist, gastroenterologist and respirologist.
"I didn't mind the physiotherapist so much because at least he did something but the nutritionist was unnecessary and charged RM85 per visit.
"Each specialist came by twice a day, with the same greeting: 'Hello aunty, how are you?' and left after less than five minutes. And they all charged for each visit.
"In the end, I told the general physician to keep them all away unless they were absolutely necessary," she says.
Even a nurse's visit was added to the bill, she says in disbelief.
"If you rang the nurse's bell after 9.30pm, the hospital charged," she gripes.
With doctors asking for higher fees, consumers are worried that private healthcare might soon be out of reach of working class Malaysians, who tend to view public healthcare as a last resort. This is mainly because despite its lower cost, there's normally a long waiting list for treatment in public medical facilities.
To illustrate, kindergarten teacher Wendy Yeoh, 28, from Penang says her father's medical bill to treat a brain tumour was only RM800 in a public hospital.
"My father had a brain tumour and friends recommended a private hospital neurologist. We had a brief meeting with the specialist who quickly flipped through my father's medical records and said it would cost RM40,000 to treat him.