Since last year, patients at government hospitals and clinics owe the Ministry of Health (MOH) RM60 million, according to Health Minister Dr S Subramaniam.

Of the amount, a total of RM50 million comprise bills unpaid by foreigners.

"This represents 84.17% of the arrears," said Subramaniam, in a written reply to Lee Boon Chye (PKR-Gopeng) who asked the MOH to reveal how much patients owed government hospitals and clinics.

This revelation comes months after it was reported that Putrajaya will introduce a Full Paying Patient (FPP) scheme, targeted at foreigners and well-off citizens, as part of the government's efforts to retain specialists.

The revelation also triggered reactions from various parties in Parliament such as Parti Warisan Sabah who demanded an explanation as to why the government failed to collect the RM50 million in unpaid medical bills incurred by foreigners.

No mechanism to ensure foreigners pay for treatment

Warisan deputy president, Darell Leiking said it was "ridiculous" that the government had allowed the debt to increase when Malaysian citizens themselves were struggling with the high cost of living.

"How did this happen? Doesn't the government have a mechanism to ensure foreigners pay for their treatment? This makes me wonder whether the foreigners who didn't pay their bills are legal or illegal," Leiking said.

Leiking, who is Penampang MP, said he was certain that a big portion of the debt came from Sabah, which has a huge migrant population. He urged Subramaniam to provide a state-by-state breakdown of the bills.

"If the foreigners are legal, has the government made any effort to get their employers to pay?" he asked. "What happened to the Foreign Worker Hospitalisation and Surgical Scheme?"

According to the Federation of Manufacturers Malaysia, the scheme provides coverage of up to RM10,000 to each foreign worker for treatment and hospitalisation in government hospitals.

The medical benefits include a third class room and board, up to a maximum of RM60 a day, covering injuries, accidents and sickness. The annual premium for each worker is RM120, excluding the 6% government and services tax and RM10 stamp duty.

Lack of cooperation leads to inability to recover funds

But government hospitals have voiced out, saying that it is hard to recover the money spent on treating foreigners. An anonymous official, who works in a government hospital in Klang Valley, said many foreigners cannot afford the bills despite being on the Foreign Worker Hospitalisation and Surgical Medical Insurance Scheme.

"In some cases, when it is sufficient, the employers will have to fork out the balance. But the problem is that you also have employers who then abandon their workers at the hospital," he said, adding that there were also illegal foreigners.

However, doctors and hospitals cater to any patient seeking treatment, regardless of immigration status. In the case of an illegal immigrant, the Immigration Department, the foreigner's embassy and the foreign affairs ministry are contacted. For legal immigrants, the embassies and the foreign ministry are also contacted.

But only some embassies respond by contacting the patients' families to settle the bills - most of the time embassies do not respond and there is nothing the hospital can do.

Government urged to ensure employers take full responsibility

The situation was even more complex with illegal or stateless patients as they have a lack of documents.

"We reach out to the Immigration Department. But sometimes, even the department can't simply take every patient in, especially if the patient has a contagious illness," he said.

"So in the end, we will treat and then discharge the person because we need the bed to treat others," he added.

Leiking urged the government to ensure that employers take full responsibility for the healthcare of foreign workers.

"Why are we allowing taxpaying citizens to pay for foreigners who don't pay taxes and send money overseas? It should be their employers, not the man on the street who is struggling with the rising cost of living," he argued. MIMS

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