Pradit stands by hospital fee increase

Consumers predict chaos in health system

An independent consumer protection group will submit a letter to Public Health Minister Pradit Sintawanarong requesting a review of the medical service fee hike in state hospitals.

The Foundation for Consumers (FFC) says the ministry's plan to increase medical treatment fees by 5-10% on average at every state hospital could create chaos in the health system.

Mr Pradit, however, insists most patients won't be affected, as they are covered by health insurance schemes.

Special diagnostics service fees, such as brain and heart disease diagnosis, will rise by more than 50% because they use advanced equipment and new technology under the changes.

The higher fees will take effect in two weeks for patients who are not covered by the three health schemes _ the 30-baht universal healthcare scheme, the social security fund, and the state officials' scheme. About 99% of Thais are members of one of the three health schemes.

However, Saree Ong-somwang, the FFC's secretary-general, said the fee hike will harm private healthcare consumers as well as the healthcare system as a whole.

She said the hike may encourage private hospitals to boost their fees in line with the fee increase at public hospitals, which would result in higher health insurance premiums, she said.

Many consumers complain they are overcharged by private hospitals, she said. A common claim is that private hospitals provide extra and unnecessary treatment to boost the cost of service.

Ms Saree said the fee hike would also increase the government's healthcare costs. The budget for the 30-baht universal health care scheme has been frozen since last year at 2,755 baht per head per year.

Ms Saree said the fee hike would create extra financial burdens for the National Health Security Office (NHSO), which oversees the 30-baht universal healthcare scheme.

The NHSO has asked the cabinet to increase the scheme's budget for individuals to 2,955 baht per year in 2014.

In the meantime, the NHSO might not be able to reimburse state hospitals for all medical costs under that scheme, she said. Dr Pradit will not be able to control rising medical costs and patients will end up being the ones who suffer.

However, the health minister insisted yesterday the fee hike would not harm the healthcare system.

He said the last time the ministry raised the medical service fee rate was in 2004. The rate no longer reflects the cost of providing service, he said.

"Most Thai patients won't have to pay for this hike," he said.

Private hospitals had always charged for services according to the standard provided. He said costs in private hospitals are not linked to the medical fee hike in state hospitals.

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Writer: Paritta Wangkiat