The insurance commissioner has affirmed that health insurance premiums will stay unchanged this year despite medical fees charged by state hospitals rising by 5-10% next month.
"In general, the industry will take a few years to gather and study information before it can raise premiums, and insurers are not allowed by law to raise their premiums immediately by their own consent," said Pravej Ongartsittigul, secretary-general of the Office of Insurance Commission (OIC).
"More importantly, as far as we have discussed with life insurers through the Thai Life Assurance Association, they confirm that those insured this year will see their premiums and medical treatments unchanged."
Thailand has two main types of health insurance: a standalone policy offered by general insurance companies or a term rider with a life insurance policy offered by life insurance companies.
"The OIC would like to insist that we are yet to approve any insurance firms to raise their premiums in light of higher medical service fees," Mr Pravej said.
The Public Health Ministry said on Monday that fees charged by state hospitals will increase by 5-10% on average next month in line with the minimum wage increase and the higher cost of drugs and medical equipment.
The last time the ministry raised fees was in 2004.
Special diagnostics fees, such as brain and heart disease diagnosis, will rise by more than 50% because they use advanced equipment and new technology. Radiology fees will increase by 23%, while medical technology service fees will go up 8%, said Public Health Minister Pradit Sintanawarong.
The new rates will apply at every state hospital and also at health insurance firms.
About 99% of Thais are members of one of three health schemes _ 48 million are covered under the universal healthcare scheme and the rest are either members of the Social Security Fund or the medical scheme for state officials.
Angkoon Srikanlayanabuth, executive vice-president of Thai Life Insurance Plc, said a short-term impact on premiums from the fee rise is unlikely as premium pricing is generally based on the risk of the insured person.
If medical costs rise to a level that insurance firms cannot afford, insurers will generally raise their premiums.
"Health insurance premiums are naturally adjusted every year in line with the varying medical charges by private hospitals," Mr Angkoon said.
The fee increase will apply mainly to those who use state hospitals.
"We have to closely monitor the loss ratio in the longer term to see whether this will affect insurance cost," he said.
Patchara Taveechaiwattana, chief officer of market management and corporate affairs at Allianz Ayudhya, said the fee rise has yet to have any effect.
She said the company is monitoring the situation closely. It will continue to provide more affordable and relevant health insurance products to meet the needs of the public, she said.
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Writer: Chatrudee Theparat & Charoen Kittikanya