PETALING JAYA – Foreigners from 38 countries owe Hospital Kuala Lumpur (HKL) RM7.87mil in unpaid medical bills from 2012.
Last year alone, the largest public hospital in the country recorded RM3mil in unpaid bills by foreigners.
This figure was part of RM50.5mil in unpaid medical bills at all government hospitals last year, HKL said.
According to the Health Ministry, the amount owed by foreign patients represented almost one-fifth of the total bills incurred by them at public hospitals.
HKL revealed that the top five foreign nationals who had consistently defaulted in settling their medical bills with the hospital from 2012 to 2016 were from Indonesia, followed by Myanmar, Bangladesh, India and Nepal (see graphic).
Some of the foreign patients also included those from First World countries such as Germany, Finland, Singapore, Sweden, Japan and the United States, although the figures were negligible.
“We try our best to collect and we also send a letter to the respective embassies to get the debts settled.
“But only 5% to 10% of the unpaid medical bills are collected,” HKL said in reply to questions from The Star.
Among the reasons for non-payment were that the patient did not have any next of kin, was not working, was self-employed or did not have an employer, it cited.
Other reasons were that the patient was homeless as a result of mental illness, lack of cooperation from the embassies, the patient had run away from the hospital, the patient’s illness was not covered by insurance and the employers had abdicated responsibility.
“If they are long-staying patients and have to go for surgery, dialysis or an implant fix or be treated for tuberculosis, the bill will spike,” HKL said.
Meanwhile, the ministry revealed that the RM50.5mil in unpaid bills last year had prompted the authorities to demand that foreigners pay a much higher deposit when seeking treatment at government hospitals.
Its secretary-general Datuk Seri Dr Chen Chaw Min said 1.36 million foreign patients visited government hospitals last year with a total treatment cost of RM269.89mil, and 23,595 of them could not pay off RM50.5mil.
“Most foreigners fail to pay because they do not have enough funds, while some simply refuse to pay.
“They mostly comprise undocumented workers who do not have medical insurance, which is compulsory for all legal foreign workers,” he said.
All registered foreign workers in Malaysia are enrolled in the Foreign Workers Insurance Scheme (Spikpa).
The premium for Spikpa is RM120 per person per year and they are covered for up to RM20,000.
Refugees registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) are encouraged to get the Refugee Medical Insurance (Remedi).
With a premium of RM165 (individual) or RM207 (family) a year, the policyholders are entitled to coverage of up to RM10,000.
Asked which nationalities tended to be in debt and could not pay, Dr Chen said the ministry did not keep information on foreign patients based on nationality.
“There are instances where hospitals contact the embassies on uncollected medical bills by their nationalities, and the embassies do assist in contacting the patients and their families to pay up.
“However, this is on a case-by-case basis if the patients are contactable,” he said.
On whether the ministry managed to recoup the debts incurred and at what percentage, Dr Chen said the ministry would try its best to take the necessary action as stated in its Guidelines to Reduce Arrears of Foreign Patients, for instance getting patients to pay deposits during registration.
Last Saturday, The Star reported that foreign residents now have to fork out 130% to 230% more in deposits for wards and surgery in a move to reduce medical subsidy for non-citizens.
Dr Chen said the ministry strived to provide the best health services to the public, regardless of nationality and on a sustainable basis.
“The ministry is concerned about the outstanding bills as these will affect the delivery of health services.
“Therefore, the need to raise the deposit rate for foreigners is in tandem with the increase in charges in 2016,” he said. – The Star Online