Preventive health care is an investment, not a burden

Hong Kong can afford to subsidise health checks for the less well off, and should do so, for ethical and long-term financial reasons

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 01 January, 2017, 10:50pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 01 January, 2017, 10:50pm

Prevention is better than cure, it is said, and when this sage advice is followed, it helps prevent diseases and relieves society of heavy medical and other costs. Unfortunately, this is easier said than done. Our hectic city life means most people do not consult a doctor until something really goes wrong. Precautionary medical care remains a luxury here.

The Our Hong Kong Foundation is to be commended for flagging the need for preventive treatment for all. Under its proposal, all low-income people aged above 45 should be given a one-off, HK$1,000 voucher for heath screening to prevent chronic illnesses. For patients already suffering from hypertension and diabetes, an annual subsidy of HK$3,040 for private doctor consultations should be provided, according to the think tank led by former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa.

Study finds cost keeps nearly one tenth from seeing doctor in Hong Kong

Similar voucher schemes are already available. The increasing burden on the public health care system has prompted the government to divert patients to the private sector through some subsidy schemes. Public-private partnership is worthy of expansion, as it enables patients to receive timely treatment while helping to rectify the uneven use of the public and private health care systems. The subsidies for cataract operations and colon screening are some of the examples.

The foundation’s proposals would cost taxpayers more than HK$800 million a year if adopted by the government. But, in the long term, it pays to provide preventive medical treatment. Low-income families are the least likely to undergo regular health checks because of financial constraints. Yet studies show that their risk of developing chronic diseases is 1.4 times higher than families living above the poverty line.

Public expenditure on this front can actually help reduce future medical costs. It should be seen as a social investment rather than long-term burden. Our fast-ageing population makes early intervention all the more important. We can certainly afford to do more in light of our healthy financial reserves.