Raise health-care voucher allowance for elderly to HK$3,500

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 02 February, 2016, 4:24pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 02 February, 2016, 4:24pm

I would like to ask the financial secretary to consider raising the health-care voucher for those over the age of 70.

The present annual allowance of HK$2,000 with a permitted accumulated balance of HK$4,000 is not enough.

Some examples can put things in perspective. The sum of HK$4,000 will not pay for an MRI scan. Add a referral from a GP and a follow-up with a specialist and the cost is nearer HK$6,000. The annual HK$2,000 will not cover five sessions with a private physiotherapist. Also, it is insufficient for treatment of a condition/injury, where the ideal for immediate relief and optimal benefit is treatment every four or five days for a couple of months. Again, referral and later reassessment by a GP are essential.

The voucher system is a supplement not meant to cover all expenses, but it should not only serve the purpose of treating minor complaints like cuts, fever, coughs and the like, to divert traffic from public accident and emergency services into the private sector.

If the target group is the elderly, make it meaningful for them. Their main problem is not discomfort as they can self-medicate, but more often recurrent ailments requiring investigative input and periodic treatment which the public sector is unable to treat in good time. Here the problem is intractable. Try and queue for an MRI and a specialist if you are not an acute or private case. Physiotherapy sessions could be weeks apart, so offer scant relief for crippling pain.

To ensure timely diagnosis and treatment the elderly must go private or combine treatment at a public facility and a private clinic. An allowance of HK$3,500 per year and an accumulation of HK$7,000 is nearer the realistic need.

Some of the additional provision can come from the allocation left unused each year for many reasons including being healthy, ignorance of the scheme, going private and wanting to avoid the bother and complication they think it entails.

For those who need and can use the system, the government can make this more about care for the elderly than just providing a cover for the protectionist policies of the Hong Kong Medical Council, which is the main cause of the understaffed and overworked public medical sector.

W. E. Cheong, Kowloon Tong