Protest fails to deter changes to health act

Protest fails to deter changes to health act

Activists say review will widen inequality

Authorities speak to health activists protesting against amendments to the National Health Security Act outside a meeting room at a Government Complex hotel Sunday. (Photo by Pattarapong Chatpattarasill)
Authorities speak to health activists protesting against amendments to the National Health Security Act outside a meeting room at a Government Complex hotel Sunday. (Photo by Pattarapong Chatpattarasill)

The government panel amending the National Health Security Act will proceed with the new draft despite a disruption Sunday of a public hearing by health activists.

Warakorn Samakoses, chairman of the committee to amend the act, said the committee will proceed with the next public hearing scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday.

"In the past three months, many people have participated in our hearings and shared their views. Therefore, we will not go back to draft a new law. But we can alter it section by section as proposed by the people," he said.

A group of health activists on Sunday protested against the amendment by lying down in front of the meeting room at Centra by Centara Government Complex Hotel & Convention Centre in Chaeng Wattana. Some made their concerns heard via a sound system.

The health activists were led by Nimit Thienudom of the Aids Access Foundation, Apiwat Kwangkaew of the Thai Network of People Living with HIV/Aids, Sari Aongsomwang of a consumer protection group and Boonyuen Siritham, a former Samut Songkhram senator.

The activists came to the venue with banners saying they were against the amendment of the 30 baht health care scheme and shouted, "If change is not good, don't do it."

They refused to join the hearing, instead making statements as the meeting was going on, outside the room. Police were closely monitoring the events.

Pol Lt Col Parinya Klinkesorn, who was assigned to monitor the crowd said, "The police did not take sides. But we came here to make sure the meeting was carried out in an orderly fashion. We did not use force against anyone."

Health activists listed some issues they deemed contentious. For instance, the activists disagreed with the proposal of a co-payment, which allows patients to choose whether they would like additional services at state hospitals for a fee.

Pongpat Hongsuksawasdi, an activist, said, "We are against the public hearing and the new gold card because it will not reduce inequailty or increase the rights of people."

He said the government should collect additional taxes to finance the cost of the National Health Security Office (NHSO) and address the inequality that even middle-class people are exposed to if they have to jointly pay their medical fees with the state.

At present, the universal health care scheme, as the 30 baht scheme is also known, guarantees free medical care for all.

In addition, protesters disagreed with a proposal to add more seats for medical professions to sit on the board of the NHSO, saying the seats would give more power to the medical service providers who would have more say in national health decisions.

The health activists asked the government to amend the law to increase the power of the NHSO to buy expensive pills and medical equipment.

They said that if the NHSO can buy expensive items in bulk to distribute supplies to state hospitals nationwide, it will save money.

Mr Warakornm, however, said after 15 years, it's time for the law to change. The law-drafting committee will make the summary of the amendment to the Minister of Public Health on July 18.

Doctor Poldej Pinprateep, chairman of a sub-committee on the public hearing, said he did not think the public hearing failed because of the protests.

"Around 2000 people have participated in the public hearings so far," he said. He added the protesters should not violate the rights of other participants by preventing them from attending the hearing.

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