Health care voucher scheme predicted to be unpopular with both patients and profession

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 30 August, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 30 August, 2008, 12:00am

Health care providers can start enrolling in the controversial health care voucher scheme from the end of next month, but doctors and Chinese medicine practitioners have given it a poor response.

The three-year pilot scheme, effective from January, will provide an annual private medical care subsidy of HK$250 to those aged 70 or above.

But the medical profession projects less than 20 per cent of doctors will join the programme, saying the low subsidy and extra administration imposed on clinics make it unattractive to both patients and doctors.

The elderly will be entitled to five electronic vouchers, worth HK$50 each, per year. The plan will cost an estimated HK$505 million. Health care providers with the scheme have to access an electronic system to open an account for patients and conduct the reimbursement.

A Chinese medicine practitioners' union said the programme was unattractive as most herbalists were elderly and knew nothing about electronic health care systems. The Medical Association was informed by the government that enrolment of doctors will start on September 30.

Association president Tse Hung-hing said the response of doctors had been poor.

'We support the long-term policy on health care vouchers, but the subsidy is just too little. Some doctors don't want the extra administration and they doubt how many elderly patients will use those vouchers or just stick to public clinics,' Dr Tse said.

A former president of the association, Choi Kin, estimated that about 1,000 of the 6,000 private doctors would join.

'The subsidy is unattractive and many doctors do not want the trouble of getting on the internet to register this and that. Some do not have computers at their clinics,' he said.

'And the about 2,000 specialists will not be interested because the HK$50 voucher is too little compared with their charges.'

Dr Choi said primary care doctors who took care of grass-roots patients would be more interested.

Tsoi Sheung-pan, chairman of the 2,200-strong Kowloon Society of Practitioners of Chinese Medicine, said his sector knew little about the scheme.

He said the average age of the 8,000 or so Chinese medicine practitioners was about 57 and they knew little about health informatics. 'No one from the government has come to us to promote the scheme.

'There will be too much trouble administratively,' he said. 'I myself, for example, will not join the scheme. If a patient comes to me and wants to use the voucher, I will rather provide free services to him.'

A government source offered a reassurance that the voucher system would be user-friendly to both service providers and patients. Providers who do not use electronic patient records can opt to reimburse the vouchers by phone.

'Of course we want most doctors in Hong Kong to join the programme to provide more choices to patients, but we cannot set a target.'