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The healthcare system in Malaysia

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If you are moving to Malaysia on your own or with a family, healthcare may well be one of your main concerns particularly if you have already been diagnosed with a condition that needs to be monitored, or if you are reaching retirement and need to focus on your health.

You'll be happy to learn that Malaysia offers some of the best healthcare in South-East Asia. So much so that there is a growing medical tourism sector in the country. The presence of so many medical schools supports the general belief that Malaysia is serious about providing quality healthcare, not only to its citizens, but also to tourists and expatriates.

In Malaysia, you can be treated by some of the most highly trained doctors in Asia many of whom were trained internationally before returning to work in their home country. Most people in the medical profession also speak very good English, as well as other foreign languages depending on where they studied. This is a big relief to many expatriates living in Malaysia, as you most certainly don't want translation issues creating an obstacle for correct diagnosis or treatment.

It may not be free or ridiculously cheap, but it's substantially cheaper than private healthcare in the west. Costs of procedures including initial consultation, MRI, operations and a private room can cost nine times less than the same procedure in the USA, so affordability is a drawcard for those living in or visiting the country, and for those travelling to the country specifically for healthcare reasons.

Healthcare system

Malaysia's healthcare system is divided into two highly developed sectors a government-led and funded public sector, and a booming private sector that has grown substantially in the last quarter of a century. The public sector caters to about 65% of the population, but is served by just 45% of all registered doctors, and even fewer specialists. However, most doctors are generally required to complete three years of service in the public sector to ensure there is adequate cover for the population.

Public healthcare is paid by Malaysian citizens through the general taxation of income. As a result, patients only need to pay nominal fees in this heavily-subsidised public sector. However, the nominal fees in this public system are only applicable for Malaysian nationals, and the government doesn't have a reciprocal healthcare policy with any other country. Foreigners are eligible for public healthcare, so long as they pay additional fees, or they can alternatively opt for private healthcare. You can find a list of treatment charges for foreigners at government hospitals on the Ministry of Health Malaysia's website.

The Malaysian government appears to be very committed to providing access to high-quality healthcare to everyone in Malaysia, which the Ministry of Health provides through clinics and hospitals nationwide. There is still a shortage of quality healthcare centres in remote parts of the country, which you should bear in mind when travelling to rural areas. However, in the urban centres, both public and private Malaysian hospitals are world-class and stocked with the latest in medical equipment.

Public healthcare may be the much cheaper option, but private healthcare options do have their advantages, such as faster services as a result of more doctors in the sector who are attracted to the higher salaries and better working conditions. However, there is little difference between quality of staff or equipment between the two sectors.

There is a very comprehensive range of healthcare services in Malaysia. Both Western and Eastern medicine is available at many healthcare institutions, which means that acupuncture is as readily available as prescription medicine. This is another drawcard to open-minded foreigners who appreciate a multi-faceted approach to treatment.

In case of emergency, it is important to note that it's best to always jump in a taxi to take you to the nearest public or private hospital, as the ambulance service in Malaysia isn't known for its efficiency. Alternatively, keep the number of a frequented private health institution to hand as some provide a reliable ambulance service.

Medication

If you are prescribed medication in a hospital, then you will pay for and receive your prescription at the same time as you pay for your consultation and any tests or treatments. Hospitals tend to have a cashier system, which is similar to how you would pay for something in a shop you queue, then proceed to a window where you present your details and make your payment.

Medication is dispensed in its relevant dose in small plastic pouches, with the details written on a label. As the instruction leaflet or original packaging is not included, it is advisable to ensure you understand the directions and to enquire about any possible side-effects before you leave. Expatriates are advised to be vigilant with prescription drugs, as there have been some issues with over-prescribing and the sale of counterfeit drugs. However, these incidences are rare and not something to panic about, but just be aware and ask questions.

 Attention:

Pharmacies can be found all over Malaysia, but only some provide medication and they vary in their stock. You'll sometimes have to be prepared to go to a few stores to find what you need.

Health insurance

As a result of the burgeoning medical tourism market, more modern hospitals and private clinics are opening in Malaysia. As public healthcare is only available to Malaysian citizens, expats are required to buy health insurance while living in the country.

Although private insurance is considerably more than what Malaysian nationals pay, health insurance which should cover common ailments, doctor’s consultations, hospital fees, and prescription medication and private clinic consultations costs are much lower than in western countries. Visits to a doctor at a private clinic costs about US$5, while consultations with a healthcare specialist cost about US$30.

The Foreign Worker Hospitalisation and Surgical Insurance Scheme (SKHPPA) is a compulsory scheme that covers the hospital charges of foreign workers. Employers are required to pay an annual premium for each of their foreign workers and, in the event of emergency, they will be allowed admission to non-corporatised Malaysian government hospitals and be paid benefits of up to the RM20,000 per year.

However, if you are moving to Malaysia as part of an expatriate package, it is worth requesting that health insurance for you and your family members be included. You may also need your own additional health insurance to provide even better coverage. You should choose a policy for you and your family that has flexible options that take into account rising medical costs as you get older.

It's important to get health insurance that guarantees easy admission to a large number and variety of hospitals. Do also bear in mind that private clinics and hospitals in Malaysia expect you to pay up front, and only the portion of the cost stipulated within the insurance can be reimbursed.

 Useful links:

Ministry of Health
Association of Private Hospitals of Malaysia

We do our best to provide accurate and up to date information. However, if you have noticed any inaccuracies in this article, please let us know in the comments section below.
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