Government to 'streamline' health funds

Government to 'streamline' health funds

More flexible terms sought for patients

A health care worker treats an indigenous Mani man in remote Naree district of Phattalung province. The government says changes are imminent in universal health care. (Photo courtesy National Health Security Office)
A health care worker treats an indigenous Mani man in remote Naree district of Phattalung province. The government says changes are imminent in universal health care. (Photo courtesy National Health Security Office)

The government is planning to revamp its medical welfare management system to ensure all citizens can benefit from existing healthcare funds, said the chairman of a sub-committee on public health reform.

"Our goal is to ensure that every citizen has equal access to the privileges accorded by the government's three healthcare funds," said Phirom Kamonratakun on Wednesday at a seminar on Universal Health Coverage Day.

"I can assure you the revamp will not reduce the rights of patients."

The seminar was part of the National Health Assembly's 11th meeting, where various stakeholders discussed the future of the country's public health sector.

Dr Phirom's sub-committee is one of the 11 reform committees established by the Prayut Chan-o-cha government.

The seminar sought to discuss ways to improve the quality of healthcare in Thailand, finance the rising cost of healthcare in an ageing society, and streamlining the country's healthcare funds.

Currently, Thailand has three types of medical welfare funds.

They are the government's welfare fund for government officials and bureaucrats, a social security fund for employees, and the Universal Healthcare Coverage (UHC) fund -- a socialist-style welfare scheme that provides healthcare assistance to 48 million people.

Dr Phirom said his sub-committee is working together with various government agencies to create a new healthcare management plan, but he did not say when the plan will be announced.

Under the plan, every citizen will be granted equal access to healthcare benefits, which will include coverage for treatments for illnesses such as cancer and kidney failure, at state hospitals.

"We want to help reduce the patients' financial burden," said Dr Phirom.

The new plan will give the managers of each healthcare funds the flexibility to confer additional benefits on patients, he added.

Currently, the sub-committee is figuring out a way to incorporate individual co-payments into the existing system, he said.

Co-payments, or user-charges, have proven controversial in the past.

Treatments that might require co-payments include fertility treatments and sex-change operations, said Thawon Sakunphanit, a Phirom sub-committee member in charge of financial affairs.

At the seminar, the most talked about issue was the financing of the UHC, as costs continues to climb.

In the 2018 fiscal year, the government allocated up to 111 billion baht for all UHC cardholders -- about 3,200 baht per head -- but according to experts, the amount is seen as insufficient.

Earlier in May, the cabinet had to inject 5.1 billion baht to keep the the UHC scheme afloat.

"We still don't know how where the money will come from," said Dr Phirom.

"But one thing is certain, the management of our public health sector needs to be improved."

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha insisted the government will keep the UHC despite the heavy financial burden.

"We will retain the UHC scheme despite the burden it put on hospitals," he told villagers in Bueng Kan province during a mobile cabinet trip.

Meanwhile, health advocates proposed four ideas to improve public health in the digital age.

The ideas, include a campaign to reduce non-communicable diseases, expanding public spaces for physical exercise, reducing computer game addictions among youths and a scheme to include dental treatment in the UHC.

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