Fee rise for outpatient treatment
ELLA LEE and MARTIN WONG
Patients are expected to pay significantly more for public outpatient services under a review of hospital charges.
Secretary for Health and Welfare Dr Yeoh Eng-kiong said there would be a cut in subsidies for medical services which had a low financial risk to the patient. These would include casualty wards and outpatient clinics where most patients were unlikely to need expensive treatment.
The Government believes raising fees for some services is more pressing than tackling the question of longer-term health-care financing through medical savings or insurance schemes.
Health officials have already said charges of between $100 and $150 per visit will be imposed at accident and emergency clinics. The Government also plans to charge patients for drugs.
Dr Yeoh said the bureau was now studying the subsidy for different services according to patients' income, frequency of consultation and length of stay in hospitals.
'In-patient services and major surgery have a higher financial risk. Patients may suddenly have to pay a lot, so the subsidy for those services should remain at a high level,' he said. 'But for outpatient services, the cost is rather low and most people can afford it.' Patients now pay $37 for a general consultation and $44 for a specialist consultation at government hospital or clinics, a small portion of the full cost.
The Hospital Authority's specialist outpatient attendance reached 7.4 million in 1997-98, a 13.2 per cent increase from the previous year.
Dr Yeoh said there would be a safety net so the chronically ill and the poor could have charges waived or reduced.
The authority is to set up four working groups to study the proposal. A green paper will be released in March.
Authority board member Michael Ho Mun-ka said: 'I am disappointed. So far I cannot see real health-care reform. The Government is just talking about charging for this and that.' Lilian Lau Sau-han, spokesman for the Patients' Rights Association, said: 'We agree that it is impossible to maintain the charges for another 10 years.
'The current safety net is only for CSSA [Comprehensive Social Security Assistance] recipients. There must be another safety net for the chronically ill.'