Government defends universal healthcare budget cut

Government defends universal healthcare budget cut

B2.4bn diverted to virus fight but Anutin insists benefits won't be cut

(Bangkok Post file photo)
(Bangkok Post file photo)

The government says the medical benefits people receive under the universal healthcare programme remain intact even though a cabinet resolution showed 2.4 billion baht would be cut from the budget.

Government spokeswoman Narumon Pinyosinwat gave the assurances on Saturday after news broke that the budget allocated to the National Health Security Office (NHSO) was among those to be trimmed so more funds can be mobilised to stem the coronavirus plague.

She said the budget for the programme had not been cut. In fact, she said, the cabinet earlier approved 3 billion baht from the contingency fund to the NHSO to cover the extra costs incurred during the Covid-19 outbreak.

It remained a mystery who had proposed the cut from the programme’s budget. Public Minister Anutin Charnvirakul, who is the chairman of the NHSO board, as well as NHSO officials, said they had not proposed it and only learned about the reduction from newspapers.  

The per-capita budget for 49 million people under the universal healthcare scheme managed by the NHSO is 3,600 baht for fiscal 2020. If the budget is cut, the budget per head will be reduced by 50 baht.

Sukhum Kanchanapimai, secretary-general of the Public Health Ministry, said on Thursday the NHSO budget included compensation for personnel.

After the ministry approved the hiring of 45,681 temporary health workers as permanent staff, the budget was pulled back to pay them, he said.

However, Mr Anutin said on Saturday that the budget would not be cut to pay the new officials.

“No matter what happens, people will still have the same medical benefits, which can only be improved. Nobody will reduce them,” he said.

Thailand's healthcare system consists of three programmes. The Social Security Fund takes care of employees in the private sector and voluntary self-employed members who, along with their employees and the government, contribute to the fund. The other two programmes use the state budget — the government welfare programme covers all civil servants and their families and the NHSO takes care of the rest of the population. 

According to the 2018 data, the Social Security Fund had 14.5 million members and spending per head was 3,355 baht. The government welfare programme covered 5 million people and spending per head was 12,676 baht. The universal coverage system covered 49 million people with spending per head of 2,600 baht.

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