Free care for sickest only from March 1
Effective March 1, the treatment of those infected with Covid-19 will no longer be included in the government's Universal Coverage for Emergency Patients (Ucep) scheme, except for those in critical condition.
At present, all Covid-19 patients are treated under the Ucep scheme, allowing them to seek medical treatment free of charge at any hospital, said Dr Jadej Thammatacharee, secretary-general of the National Health Security Office (NHSO).
But from March 1 onward, only the costs of treatments for critical illnesses caused by Covid-19 such as pneumonia will be covered by the Ucep scheme, he said.
Covid-19 infected patients in need of less critical care will therefore be advised to seek treatment under other schemes including the NHSO's universal health coverage scheme, the social security system or the Civil Servant Medical Benefit Scheme, he said.
The National Institute for Emergency Medicine will later issue a set of criteria to determine which patients are to be regarded as "critical" and exempt from being charged from March 1, he said.
The main reason behind the decision to exclude Covid-19 treatments from Ucep is that substantial state budget has already been diverted to fund the Ucep's coverage of Covid-19 treatment over the past waves of the outbreak, said Assoc Prof Dr Udom Kachintorn, an adviser to the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration (CCSA).
The government cannot afford to continue offering the same level of treatment coverage indefinitely, especially now that the country needs more funds to finance economic recovery projects, although it has insisted it will allow sufficient time for people to adjust to the new rules concerning Covid-19 treatment, he said.
The CCSA yesterday also decided that the current colour-coding system to identify provinces hit by Covid-19 will remain unchanged despite the surge of new infections, Dr Taweesilp said.
Under the system, 44 provinces are designated as controlled orange zones; 25 are high surveillance yellow zones and the eight promoted for tourism are blue.
Dr Taweesilp said the new cases recorded yesterday were mostly from the eight blue zone provinces (5,435 cases) and 3,792 cases in certain districts which have also been designated as blue zones by some other provinces.
In these blue zones, certain anti-Covid measures have been relaxed, including alcohol consumption being allowed, in order to resuscitate the economy, Dr Taweesilp said.
Nevertheless, even in these zones, everyone must still take precautions to keep the number of new infections under control as the Public Health Ministry has predicted daily new cases may surge to more than 20,000.
"Therefore, everyone must cooperate to flatten the curve to below 20,000 cases a day," Dr Taweesilp said.
He also said Covid-19 infections are rising among children aged 5-11, so the government is speeding up the vaccination process for this age group.
Dr Taweesilp said the infection rate for children in this age bracket was 1% from December 2020 to March 2021, 6.2% from April to December 2021 and 6.6% from Jan 1 to Feb 2 this year.
Therefore, vaccinations must be stepped up for young people, Dr Taweesilp said.
Vaccinations started on Jan 31 for children aged 5-11 who had chronic underlying conditions and on Feb 7 vaccinations began in schools.
However, some parents were concerned about mRNA vaccines, so the CCSA has also approved the administration of two doses of the Sinovac vaccine for families who want an alternative, Dr Taweesilp said.