The private hospital is a servant of humanity and it has done brilliant work in isolating new and increasingly innovative fees. 

That sounds cynical but I’m beginning to wonder if it rings true in the private halls of Medical Malaysia.

Recently, it was reported that a 39-year-old man, who takes his 64-year-old mother to a private hospital in Penang for dialysis treatment thrice weekly, cried foul after being charged an extra RM5 in each bill since April.

When he inquired what the charges were for, he was blandly informed that it was for ‘sanitiser use and a body temperature check.’

Now if that’s not profiteering, I don’t know what is.

At the Accident and Emergency Department, such charges are routinely parked under a general cover-all phrase as “Outpatient Precautionary Measures”, according to that plague of porcine-pandemic-profiteers, the Consumer Association of Penang or Cap.    

“During this Covid-19 emergency period, taking temperature readings of people walking into hospitals, offices and stores is a requirement of the Ministry of Health,’ huffed Mohideen Kader, the consumer body’s head. 

It is a mandatory requirement during the current Covid-19 outbreak and can probably be expensed off taxes. In other words, Mr Mohideen is right. 

In a pandemic such as this, you can see how charges like that might add up especially if everyone – from stores and government departments to hotels and diners – decides to adopt similar charges along the grounds that “precautionary measures” don’t come cheap. 

Hospital administrators should be careful what they wish for. 

We all know that private medical care in Malaysia is one of the fastest growing sectors of the economy because it encapsulates a rather unsavoury principle of capitalism: it is what the market can bear and in the case of private healthcare, it’s a lot. 

Standout example: there is an elderly Malaysian billionaire, for example, who’s been living 24/7 in a leading Kuala Lumpur private hospital for almost four years now. He occupies a suite of rooms there where he chairs meetings without stress as medical treatment is just a click away. 

To the hospital, he is an important, and recurrent if not ever-increasing, revenue stream and is probably listed in its annual report as such. And to him, the expense is probably just a droplet in his dividend stream. 

But imagine his peace of mind if he is the kind of hypochondriac that checks into a hospital if only for everyday reassurance. 

He is truly living the hypochondriac’s dream: to be surrounded by doctors of all specialties, waiting alertly to spring into action at his first ache, twinge, cramp, spasm or grimace of pain that all but screams out to the assembled throng: “I told you I was sick!”  

But he is a billionaire who probably would not deign to examine his monthly bills nor carp over extra charges designed to squeeze blood from stones. 

But the ordinary Malaysian does, because his or her money usually has to go a long way. 

And rapaciousness of the sort exhibited by the Penang hospital is revolting and gives credence to the belief that pawn brokers and private hospitals are cut from the same cloth – fleece.