No free health for treatment of alcohol related diseases

The Minister of Health has stated that those who enter the hospitals for treatment of cirrhosis and other diseases related to the consumption of alcohol should not be treated free in government hospitals. We remember how in the early 1970s during the United Left Front Government days, Dr N.M. Perera, an economist himself had introduced a levy of 25 cents per patient by way of stamps. It was a very cheap and practical way of collecting a fee for the healthcare provided by the government hospitals. The UNP torpedoed the proposal treating free healthcare as a sacred cow not to be tampered with.
But during the colonial period there was a fee of 0.50 cents per patient for outdoor treatment in government dispensaries. Although the UNP opposed the levy of fees from patients in government hospitals by the ULF government, President J.R. Jayawardene introduced the charging of fees on a means test at the new government hospital gifted by the Japanese Government - the Sri Jayewardenepura Hospital. There have also been fee paying wards in the General Hospital but the rooms are few and are monopolised by higher grade government officials.
Our people are labouring under a delusion with regard to the free services provided by the government either by way of free education or free healthcare. Merely because they don’t pay frees they assume that these services don’t cost anything. But the government pays the doctors, nurses, attendants and other employees of the hospitals. The government also pays to import drugs and medicines which are provided free to the patients. How does the government obtain the money to pay the doctors and hospital employees and to purchase drugs and medicines? Economists point out that the government either taxes people to get the money or prints money. What this means is that the money supply increases several fold and this raises the general price level of all goods reducing the real incomes of all the people. In short, to pay for the free services enjoyed by the patients, who call over for treatment at the government hospitals, all the people have to pay.
If fees are charged for the healthcare, then only those who benefit from it will pay. But free healthcare means that everyone pays up. Which is fairer - that all people should pay for a service which only some benefit from or should only those who benefit pay? Of course, there will be some who can’t afford to pay because they are poor. So an exception may have to be made for them. Perhaps all Samurdhi recipients may be given free treatment. The money the government collects by way of fees could go to improve the medical care provided in the hospitals for the government doesn’t have the money to provide for the upgrading of these services. In fact, it can’t even maintain the standard since the required money must be provided in inflation adjusted amounts for each year there is inflation. Currently it is 5.5 % which means that prices will permanently rise by 5.5%. So when the government allocates money say Rs 100mn, such money when spent in the course of the year loses purchasing power by 5.5% by the end of the year and cannot buy the same amount of goods and services as at the beginning of the year.
The minister’s idea will make a dent in the ‘free healthcare service’ on very justifiable grounds. A policy which has lasted for over fifty years cannot be changed overnight and only small changes can be introduced. So the minister’s proposal is worthy of serious consideration. However difficult it is to draw a distinction between alcoholic related diseases and other diseases, yet a workable proposal can be worked out by the doctors and it would be a good idea to introduce it.