(Picture source: http://www.cityam.com/219295/nhs-medicine-will-be-labelled-prices)

During the 12th Legislative Council session held in 2016, a proposal was presented by a Legco member to have the MoH print and attach price labels on government-supplied drugs and medicines. The purpose is to inform the general public on the actual cost that the government is spending for their healthcare. It is a great idea that should be extended to include presenting to the public the actual price of consultancies, surgeries, treatment and other health services rendered to them.

The implementation of this proposal is necessary in light of the post-2013 oil crash that now made the public sector keen to carry out austerity measures and to cut down unnecessary expenditures. It is natural to be prudent, therefore, in this situation. In the healthcare domain, much of the expenditures are concentrated in the procurement of medicine supply, fixed equipment, treatment cost, as well as the payment of salaries for our hardworking doctors and nurses.

If this proposal is carried out, firstly, it should not only increase the people’s gratitude over the government health care subsidy but to make them more considerate when it comes to securing public services. There are cases when people did not finish their medication or did not take it in the way that was prescribed. These behaviours lead to further health complications for the patient and waste public resources. The proposal to include the prices would make the public less likely to do these things.

Secondly, it raises patient education, so that those who are under the Priority 3 cases (Non-urgent) would go to peripheral clinics so as “to reduce congestions at the Accident & Emergency Department (AED) RIPAS Hospital.” (P.T. et al, 2011) In a 2003 MoH statistic, the total number of AED attendances were 67,397 patients and the majority were categorised under the Priority 3 cases, while the others make up the Priority 1 (Urgent/ Serious and Life-Threatening) cases and Priority 2 (Semi-urgent/Serious but Not Life Threatening) cases.

A short trip to the private clinic for those who have mild or non-urgent illness to get treatment/consultancy should easily cover their health care needs, albeit for a cost understandably. Some advantages on going to these private clinics they need not wait for long lines, and if they are unhappy about their clinic, they can always switch to another. Meanwhile, the doctors and nurses in RIPAS’ AED can concentrate their energies to treat Priority 1 and Priority 2 patients effectively and efficiently.

Another advantage to carrying out this policy is that it will go a long way in creating a health-conscious and healthy population, where ‘prevention is better than cure’ will be a part of their core lifestyle. This is important because 85% of the deaths in Brunei are NCD cases e.g. cancer, diabetes, stroke, and heart disease. These deaths, according to a World Health Organisation report, are preventable through the reduction of their four main behavioural risk factors: tobacco use, physical inactivity, harmful use of alcohol and unhealthy diet.

Unfortunately, there are still some people who choose not to commit to a healthy lifestyle. The free public healthcare has probably contributed to their complacency in this regard. This negative attitude that is costing the government tens of millions of dollars annually. According to Asbestos.com, for instance, lung cancer surgery has an average surgery cost of USD$39,891. Meanwhile, the costs for chemotherapy vary, with some estimates as high as USD$30,000 over an eight-week period.

Things have got to change, and by introducing these labels it will act as a wake-up call for everyone to start changing his or her lives for the better.

The proposal may add up to more administrative duties to the public sector. Labelling and marking the right prices for the medicines, consultancy, surgeries, etc. will contribute to these tasks. But it should be easily ironed out with a move towards increased professionalisation and recruitment of new financial officers, administrators, data entry officers and auditors to the MoH. Furthermore, the money spent on the increased administrative duties are punitive compared to the hundreds of millions that could be saved from a more aware and considerate cost- and health-conscious population.

There may be certain sections of our society that may disagree with the proposal. But given that it does not require people to pay the full price, other than the $1 registration fees, meant that there is little reason for them to actually grumble about the policy.

Overall, it is high time the government consider and implement the policy. The policy of labelling prices on the drugs, medications and other public health services would go a long way to create a more health-conscious, physically active and considerate population. The will, in turn, contribute towards a more productive economy and society, thus intensifying the government’s realisation of Vision 2035, as well as to strengthen the country in preparation of the Brunei post-oil era.