Gloom on health-care reform delay

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 08 June, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 08 June, 2006, 12:00am

Hospital Authority wants to raise fees, but it can't without government approval

The Hospital Authority expressed disappointment that it may not be able to raise medical fees this year after the government put on hold its controversial health-care finance reform.

Secretary for Health, Welfare and Food York Chow Yat-ngok told the Legislative Council yesterday that the government and the authority were reviewing public hospital charges, but no decision had been made.

The Health and Medical Development Advisory Committee released a consultation document in July last year which recommended repositioning the Hospital Authority and promoting family medicine.

The committee planned to release another consultation document this summer, focusing on financing models such as a mandatory medical savings scheme and raising public hospitals' fees, but the government said that it has no timetable for the reforms.

A Hospital Authority source said it was disappointing that the government was dragging its heels on the health-care reform. 'We are always ready to review the charges, but unfortunately, we cannot do so without the government's approval.'

Another authority source said the government should raise the medical fees first, as the reforms could take many years. The authority has been facing deficits while the number of patients has been increasing. This financial year it is expected to balance its books for the first time in five years with additional funding from the government.

Private doctors have criticised the authority's trend of introducing profit-making private services to generate revenue.

Medical sector legislator and an authority board member Kwok Ka-ki said review of medical fees should be carried out as soon as possible, adding that 'the reforms and the fee review should be done separately'.

Anthony Cheung Bing-leung, an executive councillor and a professor of public administration at City University, said the government had to carefully consider 'political timing' when introducing the health-care reforms.

'Health-care financing is a very complicated subject, it is not something you can rush through easily,' Professor Cheung said. 'It is right for the government to be cautious. The government should first come up with a feasible model and then start a public discussion at the right time.'

Peter Yuen Pok-man, professor at Polytechnic University's department of management and marketing, said it was a 'political reality' that the government wanted to avoid controversies ahead of the chief executive election.