11 July 2024

From March 16, people who test positive for COVID-19 will no longer be able to claim free treatment under Thailand’s Universal Coverage for Emergency Patients (UCEP). However, those with serious COVID symptoms or significant underlying risks will still be able to turn to the new scheme, UCEP Plus, for free medical help.

With the virus outbreak continuing to rage in Thailand, Thai PBS World offers a guide on what UCEP Plus really offers.

What is UCEP Plus?

Launched on March 16, UCEP Plus offers free medical services for COVID-19 patients in “yellow to red” categories (severe symptoms).

These patients will be treated for free at any hospital or clinic they check into. UCEP Plus covers all medical facilities throughout the country – including expensive private hospitals.

However, COVID-19 patients only become eligible for UCEP Plus treatment if they develop moderate to severe symptoms or have significant risks.

Who is eligible for UCEP Plus?

First and foremost, patients seeking free medical services under UCEP Plus must have proof they are infected with COVID-19. Positive results from either an antigen test kit or RT-PCR are accepted. They must also meet one of the following criteria:

  • At the triage point, their heart stops or they have difficulty breathing, go into shock, fall into a coma, develop seizures or become lethargic.
  • A body temperature above 39 degrees Celsius for more than 24 hours; a breathing rate that exceeds 25 times per minute (adult); blood-oxygen level below 94 percent at triage point; blood-oxygen level dropping by more than 3 percent after exercising just a little; underlying health conditions worsen after being infected with COVID-19; or their doctor judges that they need close medical supervision. For child patients, difficulty breathing, lethargy, and consumption of less milk or food are solid grounds for access to UCEP Plus.
  • They develop other symptoms such as panting or have other health risks. The other health risks include diseases of the lung, heart or blood vessels, strokes, uncontrollable diabetes, obesity, weight above 90 kilograms, pregnancy, low immunity, low white blood count, and old age (above 60).
  • Also, COVID-19 patients who are initially deemed to be low-risk with mild symptoms may be eligible for UCEP Plus later if their conditions worsen and they are referred to a hospital.

UCEP Plus is for Thais only, not for foreigners.

Thailand is transitioning to an endemic, so what happens now if you catch COVID?

How free is UCEP Plus treatment?

Dr. Tares Krassanairawiwong, director-general of the Health Service Support Department, explains that UCEP Plus patients will get free treatment until they recover from COVID-19. While UCEP caps the number of free-service hours to 72, UCEP Plus sets no such time limit.

However, UCEP Plus will not cover expenses for extra services such as special rooms or special food or patients who request a referral to a specific hospital that is not covered by the network.

Patients with any questions about their right to UCEP Plus can call (02) 872 1669. Hospitals across the country – including more than 300 private hospitals – can also help check patients’ eligibility.

What if I have mild symptoms?

People who test positive for COVID-19 can exercise their right to free medical treatment under the state-backed health program they are registered to, such as the universal health coverage scheme and social security scheme.

While these major schemes normally require beneficiaries to seek medical care at their chosen hospital, this rule has been waived for COVID-19 treatments.

For example, COVID-19 patients under the universal coverage healthcare scheme can seek treatment at any hospital registered under the scheme. This applies to the social security scheme as well.

People who need medical help for their COVID-19 infection may also register themselves via the National Health Security Office’s website or LINE account @nhso, where they will be paired with a suitable medical facility.

By Thai PBS World’s General Desk