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How medical bills are 'killing' cancer patients in Malaysia

How medical bills are 'killing' cancer patients in Malaysia
(From left) Dr Myralini, Dr Muhammad Azrif and Wong speaking at the event. - Astro AWANI/Sathesh Raj
KUALA LUMPUR: About 19 percent of cancer patients in Malaysia have to opt out of treatment due to their inability to pay medical bills, a study revealed.

The ASEAN Costs in Oncology (ACTION) study conducted by the George Institute for Global Health recently revealed startling facts how cancer increased a patient's financial burden, largely due to out-of-pocket expenses.

"Currently, only 22 percent of Malaysians have medical or critical illness insurance. This leaves a large segment of population of 78 percent at risk of facing financial catastrophe if diagnosed with cancer," said AIA Health Services Medical Advisor Dr Myralini S.Thesan.
She said many 'premature' deaths in Malaysia due to cancer could be prevented by stepping up early detection measures and increase awareness on strengthening one's financial protection.

The largest economic concern among cancer patients, particularly the lower-income group and the under-insured, is the cost of treatment.

"Unfortunately, in Malaysia, many patients tend to have their cancers detected late, making it difficult for them to obtain optimal treatment at the earliest opportunity.

"Cost is the other major factor that hinders effective treatment methods," said Prince Court Medical Centre consultant oncologist Dr Muhammad Azrif Ahmad Annuar.

The medical experts were speaking at a panel discussion on 'Cancer's Hidden Price Tag: Financial Preparedness Equals Better Outcomes' held in the city here recently.

Meanwhile, AIA's chief marketing officer, Thomas Wong said the ACTION study was significant as it highlighted that cancer diagnosis in Malaysia was related to substantial financial loss and premature death.

"The findings point to the fact that health insurance is the most visible means of minimising the out-of-pocket costs of treatment, offsetting the risk of catastrophic expenditure owing to illness and encouraging patients to comply with ongoing treatment," he said.

"Treatment costs for early detection is also considerably lower, when detected at a more advanced stage, a combination of treatments may be required thus further driving up the cost of treatment," he added.