Bay watch needed on health vouchers

Editorial | Mary Ma 10 Jul 2018

The news that the government may extend coverage of health-care vouchers to cities in the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macau Greater Bay Area sounds good as retirees from Hong Kong can use the subsidies for medical treatment up north.

That will mean a lot to those already spending much of their golden years in the mainland.

It is no secret that expensive medical care up north has always been a major concern for our retirees. At present, the University of Hong Kong-Shenzhen Hospital is the only medical organization allowed to accept the vouchers outside Hong Kong, and the arrangement has proven popular.

In an exclusive interview with Sing Tao Daily, health chief Sophia Chan Siu-chee said it's been a successful experience since the voucher program was extended to outpatient services at HKU-Shenzhen hospital in 2015.

As of the end of 2017, about 2,100 elderly from Hong Kong had visited the hospital and paid for their treatment with vouchers worth a total of HK$3.86 million - an average of about HK$1,800 each.

That's an impressive record that shows there is a genuine need among Hong Kong retirees living in southern China. There is no question that if the program is expanded to other medical outlets in the Greater Bay area, more senior citizens from the SAR would be able to seek treatment for simple illnesses on the spot while, for the more serious cases, they can return here for hospitalization.

Naturally, it would be nice if the current arrangement whereby mainland ambulances have to stop at the border for patients to be transferred to waiting Hong Kong ambulances can be improved so that it is a non-stop process. Can such an agreement be reached in the near future?

However, in extending the health-care vouchers to other medical outlets in the Greater Bay area, safeguards must be built in to prevent abuse, since a lot of public money will be at stake. In June, an additional one-off HK$1,000 worth of vouchers was allotted to each recipient, and the limit of unspent vouchers has also been increased to HK$5,000 since then.

We're talking about big money. In such a case, would it be tempting for unscrupulous outlets to milk the elderly of their subsidies via treatments or services that aren't necessary? The answer is obvious.

While the HKU-Shenzhen Hospital is accredited, and the public has confidence in its integrity that it wouldn't abuse the scheme, clinics in the locality of where the elderly from Hong Kong reside may not be as ethical.

How will our retirees be protected from the shady operators?

That's a genuine concern that Chan must address as she plans to extend the program to the mainland - bearing in mind there have already been cases of abuse in the SAR despite the existence of guidelines, although they're easy to get around.

Last year, 72 cases, including overcharging and purchase of unnecessary products, were reported. That's a 70 percent jump from the previous year.

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