Medical services enter new era

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 09 July, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 09 July, 2011, 12:00am


The government-run medical insurance scheme to be unveiled in Legco on Monday aims to transform the city's health-care system by bringing quality and prices under tighter control, health professionals say.

Health chief Dr York Chow Yat-ngok will brief lawmakers on the Health Protection Scheme (HPS) which will be kick-started with a HK$50 billion budget and will be administered by a statutory body provisionally known as the Health Protection Scheme Authority.

The authority will be set up by 2015 and will be responsible for designing the insurance plan's coverage and premium. It will also handle complaints from the public and even govern how private hospitals split fees with doctors.

Health officials hope that the scheme will immediately attract up to 500,000 people, including high-risk groups such as those with pre-existing conditions and the elderly, whose premiums will be subsidised by the government.

The scheme will provide coverage of fixed-priced in-patient services and insurers will have to guarantee renewals and will not be allowed to reject subscribers because of their old age or medical condition.

Chow's briefing to Legco follows a three-month consultation which attracted around 500 public submissions, most of them in support of the creation of some form of voluntary medical insurance scheme.

A senior medical source said the scheme would allow the government to play a 'more active role' in setting a 'standard' medical insurance plan and, consequently, regulating the prices and quality of private hospitals services.

'Overseas experiences show that once such an insurance scheme has attracted a large number of subscribers, services providers are bound to price and design their services according to it,' the source said. 'As a result, the scheme can set benchmark for both pricing and service quality in Hong Kong.'

Officials are confident that more than 500,000 Hongkongers will sign up to the HPS, as more than two million are already insured by plans that offer them less protection than that envisaged by the new scheme.

But some doctors have warned the government against interfering in the private health market.

'We want to know how much the government is going to interfere in the private market such as doctors' fees. If the plan sets a very low price, not many doctors will join the scheme and it won't be attractive to the public either,' said Medical Association president Dr Choi Kin.

From now to 2013, Chow's Food and Health Bureau will work on three areas of the reform involving the HPS and its governing body. It will:

- Table a legislative package by 2013 for setting up the HPS Authority, which will be formed by representatives from various sectors, independents and patients' representatives;

- Set up a high-level steering committee to review Hong Kong's manpower requirements for health care professionals over the next 10 to 20 years;

- Review all regulatory bodies for medical professionals including doctors and nurses, to improve quality. The law governing private hospitals will also be reviewed to improve quality.

The medical source admits that the HPS will inevitably 'step into' the business relationship between doctors and hospitals.

Some doctors want the government to set rules on how insurance payments would be shared between them and the hospitals.