Only 40 per cent of eligible elderly people have enrolled in the government's health care voucher scheme, nearly a year after its launch, and they can only visit 2,500 practitioners in the city.
The statistics were revealed in a Legislative Council meeting yesterday, as Secretary for Food and Health Dr York Chow Yat-ngok responded to lawmakers' inquiries on the scheme.
Chow admitted that the 40 per cent enrolment rate was 'a bit low', but said it might be because a lot of elderly people were still used to seeing public doctors.
He said that as of December 5, 260,000 elderly people had enrolled in the scheme, which annually provides five electronic vouchers, valued at HK$50 each, for use when seeing private doctors, dentists and Chinese herbalists, among other practitioners.
An estimated total of 650,000 citizens aged 70 or above are eligible for the pilot scheme, which started in January and will run for three years.
Department of Health statistics showed 321,000 vouchers had been used so far. Of the 2,500 practitioners who had participated, 68 per cent had by now served a patient enrolled in the scheme.
A total of 113 practitioners, of 120 clinics, had withdrawn from the scheme. But Chow added that of these, 37 withdrew because they were switching to other clinics.
In the same period, the Department of Health received 700 new applications from service providers.
Though there are about 3,100 participating clinics, some districts have as few as 30. Others have as many as 500.
Chow said the districts with the lowest number of participating clinics were Islands and Southern, since their populations were lower. North district had only 70 clinics. On the other hand, urban districts including Tsim Sha Tsui, Mong Kok and Central had more than a hundred service providers.
But the minister said elderly people still had plenty of choice, as each district had at least 40 doctors and dozens of Chinese herbalists and dentists participating.
Democratic Party lawmaker Fred Li Wah-ming said the subsidised amount, HK$250, was too low to encourage patients to switch to private doctors.
But Chow said it was reasonable for patients to foot part of the bill.
'When seeing a doctor, the patient should also be responsible to pay some part of the fees. The government cannot provide a full subsidy.'
He promised that the government would review the scheme next year.