Despite promises of rebates, diagnostic tests remain an expensive burden

Assurances by K-P govt to reduce test fees to a bare minimum remain a sound byte.

Our Correspondent July 28, 2013
Assurances by K-P govt to reduce test fees to a bare minimum remain a sound byte. PHOTO: FILE


Bringing diagnostic fees down to a nominal amount has been the government’s mantra since the day it took charge of the health ministry. However, talk of the much-anticipated rebate has not been translated into any action, despite repeated public announcements.

Speaking at the Lady Reading Hospital (PRH) earlier this week, Minister for Health Shaukat Yousafzai reiterated heads of all hospitals had been directed to assign minimal charges for procedures such as MRIs and CT scans.

However, information collected from Hayatabad Medical Complex (HMC) and Khyber Teaching Hospital (KTH) shows laboratory staff are still following the fee structure issued a few years ago, with few if any amendments. The list at the HMC dates back to 2009.

Heavy on the pocket

“We are still charging rates from 2009 for approximately 95% of the procedures; there were very few changes over this period. The new government announced the fee reduction but so far it has not given us a revised fee list,” explained an official at the HMC.

Ironically, as the provincial government stresses on charging the minimum amount for diagnostic procedures, patients at the HMC have to pay even more than necessary.

The MRI machine at the hospital has been out of order since last year. HMC patients have to spend more and pay for the expensive scan at private laboratories or the KTC, which is located at a distance.

When the MRI machine was functional (in 2012), the HMC would charge Rs2,500 – a cost which almost triples at a private facility where it ranges between Rs6,000 to Rs7,000. The existing machine was purchased in 1992 and Siemens, the manufacturer, no longer builds its components, rendering it irreparable.

Dozens of diagnostic tests cannot be conducted at the HMC as the facility lacks the necessary equipment. Even if the government’s drive to bring down diagnostic costs is implemented, patients would still need to go seek services privately at higher costs. This problem is especially inconvenient for inpatients at the HMC.

An official at the KTH confirmed there has been no implementation of reduced fee structure as yet. “The government keeps announcing they will reduce prices, which is extremely disappointing for patients as they come in with high hopes and we have to tell them it has not been implemented as yet,” said the official.

According to KTH Chief Executive Umer Ayub, the hospital was directed by the provincial government to decrease the fees but the order was not followed up with an official notification from the health department. KTH provides free tests on need basis from its Zakat funds.

“It’s a good decision to provide relief to poor patients in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, and it will not impact the affairs of the hospital. This was part of the health reform committee’s agenda, something we can help them manage,” said Dr Ayub.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 28th, 2013.


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