Both in its articulation of values and through incremental changes, the Malaysian government has signalled a change in attitude towards the welfare approach which had hitherto characterized public health care policy. This change envisions an end to reliance upon the state for the provision and financing of health services and the fostering of a system of family-based welfare. In the future citizens should finance their own health care through savings, insurance or as part of their terms of employment. While the state will still accept a degree of responsibility for those unable to pay for their health care, it wishes to share this burden with the corporate sector and non-government organizations as part of a national policy of the 'Caring Society'. In this article the retreat from a commitment to a welfare model of public health care is documented and some of the serious obstacles to such a policy are discussed. It is concluded that the government's aspirations for reforming the welfare model will need to be tempered by both practical and political considerations. Moreover, the socio-economic consequences of the Asian currency crisis of 1997 are likely to increase the need for government welfare action.