$100m help for struggling seriously ill

The seriously sick who are beyond financial help are to get a helping hand from the Li Ka Shing Foundation.

Amy Nip

Monday, August 20, 2018

The seriously sick who are beyond financial help are to get a helping hand from the Li Ka Shing Foundation.

It starts in the new year on a trial run through a HK$100 million revolving funding arrangement with the Hospital Authority, the University of Hong Kong and the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Medical expenses of patients eligible for Comprehensive Social Security Assistance Scheme, the Community Care Fund and the Samaritan Fund are currently well covered.

But the arrangement still leaves many households in the sandwich class outside this safety net when a family member faces escalating medical bills not covered by the authority.

It is these people that the foundation hopes to help through the "Love Can Help" Medical Assistance Program.

It will provide a safety net "like a friend to someone in need," according to the foundation. Two "self-financed procedures" under the Hospital Authority will offer HK$5,000 in subsidies to patients.

About HK$10 million will go to positron emission tomography-computed tomography (PET-CT) scans for detection and diagnosis of cancer and other diseases in the self-financed category at public hospitals.

The program will offer a HK$5,000 subsidy for each qualified case. It aims to benefit 2,000 patients each year.

Another HK$20 million will subsidize patients for stents used in Percutaneous Coronary Intervention (PCI) - a non-surgical procedure that uses a catheter to place a small structure called a stent to open up blood vessels in the heart that have been narrowed by plaque buildup.

The procedure can relieve symptoms of coronary heart disease or reduce heart damage during or after a heart attack.

The Hospital Authority says a PET-CT scan is free in public hospitals if a doctor finds it necessary for a patient. But if a patient wants to carry out a scan when a doctor deems it not a must, it could cost tens of thousands dollars.

For PCI, the cost varies according to how complex the procedure is. The cost a patient pays fluctuates from about HK$10,000 to HK$100,000.

The foundation will donate HK$35 million to the HKU Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine and the CUHK Faculty of Medicine to subsidize 520 patients seeking selective advance treatment there.

The HKU faculty will focus on patients suffering from chronic illness, cancer, auto-immune disease and patients on rehabilitation, such as young people who have undergone amputation and need artificial limbs.

CUHK proposes to use the funding on novel therapeutic drugs and devices for those suffering from cancer and auto-immune disease.

The foundation will also donate HK$35 million to help set up a PET-CT Center at Tuen Mun Hospital. Services are expected to come on line as early as mid-2020, serving 1,900 patients annually.

If the initial year's trial proves successful, the foundation plans to include it in its budget for the longer-term.

Tim Pang Hung-cheong, spokesman for the Patients' Rights Association, welcomed the initiative and said it would help the sandwich class.

He suggested expanding the subsidy to cover more scans for patients suffering from brain and digestive diseases.

The quota of 2,000 for PET scans may not be enough too, as there are 30,000 new cancer cases a year, he said.

Chan Ngai-yin, treasurer of the Hong Kong College of Cardiology, said PCI is an increasingly common procedure as more young people suffer from coronary diseases.

He suggested subsidizing heart defibrillators too, which costs more than HK$100,000.

amy.nip@singtaonewscorp.com