Aliran supports judicial review of high hospital charges imposed on foreigners

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Photograph: malaysiacentral.com

Aliran is deeply concerned about Health Ministry guidelines that will further increase charges for foreigners seeking medical treatment in government hospitals and clinics.

These measures are tantamount to denying them their basic human right to medical care.

The guidelines, issued last December, also oblige civil servants to report any foreigner who does not have valid travel documents to the police or immigration department.

These measures effectively deter migrant workers and refugees from seeking much-needed urgent medical treatment and are likely to endanger their lives and, in the case of those with communicable diseases such as tuberculosis, the lives of other migrants and Malaysians.

Look, Malaysians must realise that if migrant workers with communicable diseases do not go to hospital for screening because they cannot afford the higher charges or fear being deported, then Malaysians are going to die as well from such infectious diseases.

Those migrant workers and refugees with meagre or no income will definitely be unable to afford private medical treatment.

These new guidelines by the Ministry of Health are uncaring and even callous, to say the least. This is perhaps a reflection of the callous and uncaring attitude of many Malaysians who are upset that we should spend “our” tax money on these foreigners!

This is extremely shortsighted: if people who are seriously ill stay away from hospitals because of such encumberances, the cost to society could be much higher especially if the diseases are transmitted to others around them.

If the argument is that migrant workers do not pay income tax to support government hospitals, well, neither do 90 per cent of Malaysians pay income tax.

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Moreover, we cannot shut our eyes to the fact that these migrant workers are already contributing to our economy through their labour; why then should they be charged excessively or discriminated against through higher charges?

Is it really true that migrant workers are not contributing to public coffers (which are used to fund our government hospitals and clinics)?

They may not pay income tax but now, with GST, foreigners too have to pay this consumption tax, which ends up in public coffers.

Many of them – or their employers – are also paying foreign workers’ levies. This too ends up in public coffers.

Bear in mind also that many foreigners are employed in lowly paid work or exploited. These low wages result in higher profits for the companies they work for. These companies, in turn, are then liable to pay more corporate taxes on the extra profit they earn on the back of cheap migrant labour – and ultimately these taxes end up in government coffers.

So it is not true that migrant workers are not contributing their fair share to public coffers, either directly or indirectly.

In fact, more money would have been available for public coffers – and Malaysia could have been more magnanimous to these foreign workers who are helping to build and develop this country – if we had been more judicious with 1MDB and Mara funds.

We are not saying that foreigners should be completely exempted from charges at government hospitals and clinics, but why do they have to pay much higher charges?

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The other question is, why are we asking hospital authorities to play the role of immigration officers by checking if patients have valid travel documents? We should not allow health care personnel, who are trained to heal the sick, to be faced with a moral dilemma of having to report – and hand over? – patients without valid documents to the authorities.

The fear of being caught keeps many undocumented nationals – and there are a couple of million of them in the country – from seeking prompt medical treatment when needed.

Aliran, as part of the Coalition Against Health Care Privatisation, therefore supports the move by Dr Jeyakumar Devaraj in seeking a judicial review of these new guidelines that could prevent foreigners from receiving prompt and affordable medical care.

Let us put it starkly: Malaysians are going to die if foreign workers with tuberculosis or other communicable diseases don’t seek treatment due to the high fees or the fear of being caught.

Aliran Executive Committee
23 July 2015

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