No more medicine for pensioners?

Pensioners were hit with a thunderbolt with the sudden announcement that no more medicine would be supplied for them by Oratis Services Sdn Bhd, a company appointed by the Public Services Department (JPA), writes P Ramakrishnan.

Oratis had been supplying the medicine to all pensioners throughout the country since 2012.

According to a friend in Ipoh, when his wife went to the general hospital on 27 February to apply for Suplasyn, (sterile sodium hyaluronate) for treatment for her painful knee problem, she was told that that the hospital had received instructions not to prescribe this and other medicines as from 28 February. This treatment had been available for all pensioners for many years.

I’m told by a pharmacy in Penang that they received this notification from Oratis by email on 27 February at 3.00pm instructing them not to issue any more medicine to pensioners from 28 February onwards as was the case prior to this email. Strangely, they were given less than 24 hours’ notice to stop supplying medicine to pensioners!

Why such urgency? Why this sudden turn of events? What is the problem? Don’t pensioners deserve to know? Aren’t they entitled to this information?

To make matters worse, pensioners have not been told how they are going to have access to their much-needed medicine from now onwards. What do cardiac patients on blood thinners do now? Is there an alternate source for them to acquire their monthly supply of life-saving medicine? Is there an alternate system in place to replace Oratis?

We are in the dark.

Before Oratis, the company supplying the medicine, came into the picture, pensioners collected their supply of medicine from the hospital pharmacy.

When any medicine was not available from the hospital pharmacy, and if this medicine was deemed necessary for the patient, the specialist would recommend that this medicine be bought outside and paid for by the patient who could subsequently claim the cost of medicine from the JPA.

This system worked very satisfactorily for all concerned for a long time.

Then in 2012, the JPA introduced a new system, appointing Oratis to provide the medicine that was not available at government hospitals. In the initial stages, we had to fax the prescription to Oratis in KL, which would then call us to confirm that they had received the prescription and inform us that the medicine would be sent to us by PosLaju, which was done subsequently.

Later, pharmacies were required to register with Oratis which simplified matters. All that the pensioner had to do was to present to the pharmacy the authorised form signed by the specialist together with the prescription and collect the medicine. It made things easier for pensioners.

By transferring the supply line to Oratis, it added to the cost and made healthcare expensive. The administrative cost of Oratis has to be paid for, but who pays for it?

When pharmacies sell their medicine, medical tools and devices to Oratis their profit margin is included in the cost.

When Oratis supplies this medicine to pensioners, I’m told, that Oratis adds another 17 per cent profit margin on top of that. You can imagine how much more the JPA ends up paying Oratis for the supply of medicine!

We have no clue why the JPA cancelled the contract with Oratis. Was there a falling out with certain personalities? Or is there a new company in the offing to take over this medical business from Oratis and reap a huge profit?

It is difficult to fathom government policies. But pensioners need to know soon where their supply of medicine will come from. Can we be enlightened, please?

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P Ramakrishnan
P Ramakrishan, the long-serving former president of Aliran who served three and a half decades on our executive committee, has been with Aliran since its inception in 1977. Now an ordinary Aliran member, he continues to highlight issues of public interest to a larger audience.

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