Govt told to cut tax privileges to fund 30-baht scheme

Govt told to cut tax privileges to fund 30-baht scheme

The government should reduce tax privileges granted to investors to generate more income to fund the universal healthcare coverage scheme, a seminar has been told.

Kannikar Kijitwatchakul, a member of the National Health Security Office (NHSO) board, said tax measures would be a good way to help raise money to fund the 30-baht scheme.

According to Ms Kannikar, tax exemptions or privileges offered by the Board of Investment (BOI) to lure investors should be reconsidered.

She also said if the government insists on proceeding with an increase in value-added tax (VAT), it should also make sure some of the money is allocated for social welfare benefits.

Ms Kannikar was speaking at a seminar to mark the 10th anniversary of the death of Sanguan Nittayaramphong, a respected rural doctor who laid the foundations for the scheme.

The scheme was initiated under the 2002 National Health Security Act for people who are neither private sector nor government employees, to ensure they have access to healthcare and government health subsidies.

It comes as the government proposes changing the healthcare law, with critics already seeing it as a Public Health Ministry attempt to regain control of its budget and wrest power over the scheme which is managed by the NHSO.

The proposed amendments include changes in the way NHSO salaries are managed and an end to NHSO control over medical procurement at all state hospitals. The NHSO oversees an annual budget of 170 billion baht for state-run hospitals.

Ms Kannikar, who is critical of proposed amendments to the law, urged people to write to the Prime Minister's Office to demand withdrawal of the bill. "The scheme must keep to its principles. If changes to be made are for the worse, it's not right," she said.

Poldej Pinprateep, former social development and human security minister, said universal healthcare must be maintained but authorities need a new approach of focusing on prevention to cut healthcare costs.

He said most of the scheme's funds have been spent on "fixing" health and it is time to take a prevention-first approach to improve overall health and reduce spending on chronic diseases.

Mr Poldej said it is also a must to strengthen local communities' capacity to provide healthcare for the people.

On the attempts to amend the healthcare law, he said all stakeholders must be consulted to make sure any changes will boost effectiveness in service delivery and transparency and lead to sustainabilty.

Surapong Suebwonglee, former deputy public health minister in the Thai Rak Thai-led administration, said despite problems the 30-baht health care programme should continue but in a sustainable manner.

"The issues are perspective and priority-setting. The public health minister or the permanent secretary for public health should have answers for the public. Their perspective can decide the fate of a public policy," he said.

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