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KUALA LUMPUR, March 2 — Pensioners are unable to get free medicines from private hospitals for now after the Public Service Department (PSD) ordered its third-party intermediary to stop all supplies of medicines and medical equipment to pensioners.

OratisRx Sdn Bhd, which the government had appointed in 2012 to act as an intermediary between PSD and federal pensioners to provide medicine and medical equipment that are unavailable in government hospitals or clinics, said in a February 27 letter that the order by JPA was effective February 28.

“Please take note that any claims of repayment for supplies after February 27 2017 are invalid and not the responsibility of OratisRx Sdn Bhd,” OratisRx CEO Datin Rahimah Rais said in a letter to pharmacies and medical equipment suppliers registered with the e-MASS system that manages medical supplies and equipment for pensioners.

The February 27 letter was put up on the e-MASS portal. The OratisRX website has been hacked and remains under the control of its attacker.

OratisRx was formerly known as Oratis Services back when the government appointed it through an open tender in 2012. Before the appointment of OratisRx as an intermediary, pensioners would buy medicines at private hospitals, pharmacies or clinics if such medicines were unavailable at government hospitals and then make claims for repayment from PSD.

The e-MASS system enabled pensioners to get medicines or medical equipment at private hospitals, clinics or pharmacies registered with OratisRx without making any payment. Pensioners only needed to go directly to those places, call the e-MASS call centre or make orders through the e-MASS portal and have OratisRx deliver the item to them or to the respective hospital.

The allocation for the health sector under Budget 2017 was increased by about RM2 billion from RM23.03 billion to RM24.8 billion.

Kampar MP Dr Ko Chung Sen from DAP, however, said last October that despite the increase to the Health Ministry’s overall 2017 budget, the allocation for services and supplies under pharmaceuticals and supplies dropped by almost 19 per cent from RM1.6 billion to RM1.3 billion.

Aliran committee member P. Ramakrishnan said that according to a friend in Ipoh, his friend’s wife went to the general hospital on February 27 to apply for Suplasyn (sterile sodium hyaluronate) for treatment for painful knees, but was told that the hospital would no longer prescribe this or other medicines from February 28.

“This treatment was available for all pensioners for many years,” Ramakrishnan said in a letter to Malay Mail Online.

“To make matters worse, pensioners have not been told how they are going to have access to their much-needed medicine from now onwards. What does a cardiac patient on blood thinners do now? Is there an alternate source for him to acquire his monthly supply of life-saving medicine? Is there an alternate system in place to replace Oratis?” he questioned.

The committee member with the Penang-based social movement said transferring the supply line to Oratis made health care expensive.

“The administrative cost of Oratis has to be paid for but who pays for it? When pharmacies sell their medicine, medical tools and devices to Oratis their profit margin is included to the cost.

“When Oratis supplies this medicine to pensioners, I’m told that Oratis adds another 17 per cent profit margin on top of that. You can imagine how much more JPA ends up paying Oratis for the supply of medicine!” said Ramakrishnan, using the Malay initials for the PSD.

He questioned why JPA had cancelled its contract with Oratis, saying: “Was there a falling out with certain personalities? Or is there a new company in the offing to take over this medical business from Oratis and reap a huge profit?”

Even though medicines at government hospitals are free, with patients paying a nominal fee of RM1 for a visit, there is the question of availability as some new cancer drugs, for example, are not provided.

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