At least one in two Malaysians diagnosed with cancer suffer from a ‘financial meltdown’ a year after being diagnosed, a Sydney-based George Institute for Global Health study said.
This means medical costs exceeds a third of the household income, the institute said.
While those opting for public healthcare would see a dramatic reduction in costs of up to 70 percent less, this too, could run into the tens of thousands of ringgit.
As cost of cancer treatment spiral out of affordability, the nonprofit sector plays a key role in ensuring those in need receive care.
One significant player in this sector is the Max Foundation, an international NGO assisting those living with cancer. In Malaysia, cancer sufferers include patients diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML) and gastrointestinal stromal tumours.
It works with the Health Ministry and pharmaceutical firm, Novartis, to help patients of a certain socio-economic position.
“We are treating people, not just disease.
“We partner with families in their cancer journey, we foster leaderships among cancer survivors, and we collaborate with local patient associations to create positive social change in communities,” the chief executive officer of the foundation, Pat Garcia-Gonzalez said.
Only 22 percent of Malaysians have medical insurance or critical illness insurance, which provides extra coverage, the Life Insurance Association of Malaysia revealed.
“This leaves a large segment of the population at risk of facing financial catastrophe if diagnosed with cancer,” Dr Myralini S Thesan, a medical adviser of AIA Health Services, said.
Public vs private care
With such stark differences in cost between private and public healthcare, why do many risk going broke to seek treatment in private hospitals?
Munirah Osman has experienced cancer treatment in both private and public hospitals.
When first diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, Munirah immediately chose to seek private care by using her health insurance scheme.
“(The insurance) did not cover government hospitals, they cover private (ones),” she said.
However, the high cost of care in a private hospital drained her insurance funds, forcing her to seek public healthcare when she relapsed.
“The treatment, I can say, is actually considered good. No more bad treatment.
“That (Ampang Hospital) was really good, all pakar, it’s not (that bad compared to private hospitals).
“Chemo, everything, medicines all free, government subsidises,” she said.
Munirah does however say private hospitals have a slight edge over government ones, like in terms of comfort and how long it takes for a nurse to attend to you.
The cost of seeking public healthcare, however, shows itself in different forms.
Three months to get diagnosed
Adam, who is battling non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma paid only RM1,000 for treatment, including six chemotherapy sessions and a biopsy at a public hospital.
However, it took him three months to even get diagnosed.
“I was afraid at first, I just put (it) aside, I didn’t want to think about it, I just wanted to focus only (on) my treatment, as long (my) treatment no issue, I’m happy,” Adam, who chose not to have his full name published for fear of spooking his employer.
He added that despite having an insurance policy, he was thankful he chose a public hospital for treatment as the costs are lower and the insurance can be used later for “a more serious” disease.
Adam believes there is misconception of poorer care at public hospitals.
“I think the treatment was really good for me, for the type of cancer I faced, a minor one.
“But I wouldn’t know how it is for other types of cancer,” he said.- Mkini