The government's plan to freeze spending on the 30-baht universal healthcare scheme will hurt state hospital finances and reduce the quality of medical services to patients, a Senate sub-committee has warned.
Dr Jate Sratharanon, the head of a sub-committee on the universal healthcare policy under the Senate's committee on public health, said the proposed freeze would severely harm the scheme.
The government has proposed a three-year spending freeze between this year and 2014.
While other developed countries have increased their healthcare spending to as high as 8% of GDP, the government is planning to curb health spending at 3.8%-4% of GDP, Dr Jate said.
As a result, the budget for the 30-baht universal healthcare scheme will be frozen at 2,755 baht a head each year.
This amount covers medical costs, wages for medical staff and the hospitals' running costs, Dr Jate said.
The freeze will harm hospitals which will still have to deal with inflation and the rising costs of medicine and medical equipment, he said.
According to a survey by the sub-committee in June, 496 of 831 hospitals under the Public Health Ministry are running at a loss amounting to a total of 4.5 billion baht.
It said 25% of hospitals are in debt without any reserve fund, while about 21% of hospitals are at extreme risk of financial crisis.
The sub-committee's survey shows funds provided by the National Health Security Office are still stuck in the payment process while their reserve funds have run out.
The sub-committee predicts more than 70% of the hospitals would be in the red by the end of this year if no funds are made available for them.
Their overall operating losses are expected to increase by another 2 billion baht at that point.
Dr Jate said the cost containment policy would put more hospitals in financial crisis, which would force hospitals to cut their expenses by laying off staff, using cheaper medicine and putting a halt to the purchase of new equipment.
The freeze will undermine the medical services offered by hospitals to the public.
He said the government had recently trimmed welfare and benefits for civil servants and reallocated the money saved from those cuts to the 30-baht healthcare scheme.
However, the government's new spending on populist policies such as the rice pledging scheme and the first-car-buyer scheme have prevented it from being able to sufficiently support the universal healthcare programme.
Public Health Minister Dr Pradit Sinthawanarong said the cost of the 30-baht scheme has grown rapidly, from 70 billion baht 10 years ago to 100 billion baht this year.
He said the ministry is considering encouraging private hospitals to use equipment owned by government hospitals, which will bring extra income to the state hospitals.
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Writer: Paritta Wangkiat