Ministry delays hospital fee rise

Department studies impact on national budget

The Public Health Ministry has postponed its plan to increase medical service fees at state hospitals.

The Comptroller-General's Department (CGD) requested the delay, Sophon Mekthon, the deputy permanent secretary for public health, said.

Public Health Minister Pradit Sinthawanarong last month announced that medical service fees charged by state hospitals would increase by 5-10% on average from this month.

The hike was needed because of the minimum daily wage increase and higher drug and medical equipment costs, Dr Pradit said.

The higher fees would be incurred by patients who are not covered by any of the three health schemes.

The last time the ministry raised the medical service fee rates was in 2004. Those rates no longer reflect the actual cost of providing services, Dr Pradit said.

However, Dr Sophon said the CGD had asked the minister to postpone the plan since the CGD needs more time to study the new fee rate.

He said the fee changes would affect the national budget as a whole.

"I have no idea when the CGD's study will be completed," Dr Pradit said. "However, I expect the new fees will be applied in state hospitals by April."

The Aids Access Foundation director Nimit Tian-udom said the CGD provides the budget for the civil servant medical scheme and is concerned that its costs will increase.

The civil servant scheme, unlike the universal healthcare and the social security fund schemes, has no individual service fee cap.

More than 60 billion baht was paid to cover 5 million state officials in the civil servant scheme last year.

About 100 billion baht was spent on health care for the 48 million people under the universal scheme.

If the civil servant scheme has to cover members for the cost of the fee increase, the cost to the government could be considerable, the CGD fears.

Mr Nimit said it made no sense to raise medical fees. The government budget allocated to state hospitals is higher than hospitals' actual costs.

Udom Kachintorn, dean of Siriraj Hospital's faculty of medicine, said medical fee rates at Siriraj would be increased by about 10% over the next six months.

He said the decision to postpone the fee hike at state hospitals had no impact on university hospitals such as Siriraj.

Advanced medical technology and equipment are used in university hospitals, and fees have increased gradually to match the cost of those technologies, he said.

Dr Udom said that university hospitals' fees increase on par with their actual costs.

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Writer: Paritta Wangkiat