PETALING JAYA, Malaysia - Senior citizens can look forward to a healthy start to the new year - they can seek outpatient treatment at government hospitals and clinics without having to fork out a single sen.
Effective yesterday, the Government abolished the token RM1 (S$40 cents) payment senior citizens needed to pay each time they sought such treatment.
The Health Ministry announced in its latest circular that patients aged 60 and above would be exempted from making any payment for outpatient treatment at government hospitals and clinics.
This means that these patients will enjoy medical consultation, check-ups and medication at no charge at all.
The circular, issued by ministry's finance division secretary Wong Foong Lai, stated that the exemption was in appreciation of the contributions made by senior citizens.
Senior citizens would only have to pay a nominal fee if they required specialist care, treatment or hospitalisation.
Civil service retirees under the Employees Provident Fund pension scheme already enjoy free medical facilities at government medical establishments.
Health director-general Datuk Seri Dr Hasan Abdul Rahman said yesterday many senior citizens had chronic diseases that required regular hospital visits.
"If a senior citizen needs to see his doctor once a month or fortnightly, he could still make some savings. We must also bear in mind that X-rays, medication and several tests are already provided free for them,'' he told The Star.
Asked whether the ministry was considering a blanket waiver of hospital fees for the elderly, Dr Hasan said those who could not afford the hospital fees were already eligible for free medical care.
He said the latest exemption could cost the ministry an estimated RM2mil in revenue annually.
"Government hospitals and clinics receive an average of 40 million visits from patients every year and about 5% of these comprise senior citizens,'' he added.
Fomca president Datuk N. Marimuthu welcomed the Government's latest initiative.
Society of Active Generation of Elders (Sage) president Chin Sek Ham, 71, said the body had called for the RM1 exemption a long time ago.
According to the latest census report (2010), 1.5 million Malaysians (5.1% of the population) are over the age of 65.