Thai PM will not cut health scheme despite cost problems

Thai Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha at the Rubber City project in Hat Yai, Songkhla province.
PHOTO: The Nation/ANN

PRIME MINISTER Prayut Chan-o-cha assured the public yesterday that there would be no abolition of universal health coverage (UHC) or other public-welfare services.

Meanwhile, a committee studying sustainable long-term funding mechanisms for the UHC scheme is holding a conference today to discuss proposals for submission to Public Health Minister Piyasakol Sakolsatayadorn.

During an official visit yesterday to Ban Nong Rian School in Surat Thani's Ban Na Doem district, Prayut said he had no intention of ending public welfare programmes, despite chronic budget deficits. He added that the public should not believe reports to the contrary.

"Nowadays, Thailand suffers from a budget deficit every year because we have more expenses than income," Prayut said. "This is the government's task to solve, so there will be no abolition of public welfare programmes such as free transport, free education or free healthcare.

"Therefore, I ask you not to listen to provocative statements that I will cancel these welfare programmes. I am only looking where I can find more money and how to improve the public welfare."

The prime minister also warned people not to protest against the government's UHC plans, adding that the proposed database of individuals will be compiled using identity cards encoded with data such as that used in credit cards. The database will be used to identify people who do not have to pay for public-welfare services.

Prayut added that it would neither constitute a classification of people nor involve a stamp on ID cards that could stigmatise poor people.

Amid debate about how to prevent the UHC scheme from going bankrupt, committee member Nimit Tienudom said the conference today would discuss options for strengthening the programme.

Nimit said the committee would not propose a single solution, but instead would present proposals in accordance with the "SAFE" principles of sustainability, adequacy, fairness and efficiency.

Thailand currently operates three different healthcare schemes: care provided to all Thai citizens under the UHC; the social security programme for salaried employees; and coverage provided to civil-service employees.

To sustain all three programmes, Nimit said the committee intended to submit proposals to manage the state budget, co-payments and household expenses in line with both the government and general public's capacity to invest in long-term healthcare.

To ensure adequate coverage, he said proposals would allot a sufficient government budget to cover general healthcare, the provision of medicine and the development of medical technology so that every citizen would have access to care without fear of bankruptcy.

The principle of fairness will be applied in terms of the different payment options for people accessing healthcare in each of the three schemes and regarding the levels of funding that hospitals across the country will receive.

Finally, Nimit said efficiency would be achieved both in a technical capacity and through an efficient allocation of resources.

"It can be seen that there are many methods that we can explore, such as improving the management of the three health security schemes or controlling the price of medicine," he said. "We don't only have to increase the budget.

"The conference will decide which suggestions will be presented to the public health minister," he added.