Is treatment for COVID-19 really free in Thailand?
Despite the government’s repeated assurance that treatment for COVID-19 is free, not everyone is convinced. Copies of hefty hospital bills for COVID care are circulating widely on social media platforms.
One patient was hit with a bill of Bt937,979 for 16 days in a private hospital, which included three days in intensive care (ICU). Another had to pay Bt989,670 for 17 days in hospital, 13 of which were spent in ICU.
People who need COVID-19 treatment should therefore study their options carefully, including which services are free.
What the govt says
Dr Tares Krassanairawiwong, director-general of the Health Service Support Department, insisted again this month that all COVID-19 patients will receive free treatment from any state or private hospital. For each patient, the National Health Security Office (NHSO) will pay up to Bt7,200 for medicines, Bt1,500 per night in a hospital, field hospital or hospitel and about Bt3,800 for other items related to COVID-19 care.
“Patients don’t have to pay even when being treated in a private hospital because the NHSO will reimburse the cost,” said NHSO secretary-general Dr Jadej Thammatacharee. “On average, we pay private hospitals about Bt100,000 per [COVID] patient with moderate symptoms, and have paid Bt800,000 to Bt1 million for severe cases.”
However, Tares said patients who want more convenience or special services would have to pay more, in line with fees charged by their medical facilities.
For Thais craving international travel while also wanting an anti-COVID-19 jab, a vaccination tour could be the answer. At least four Thai travel agencies are now arranging overseas trips featuring the much sought-after vaccine. The trips have attracted strong interest among wealthy Thais, but authorities have issued some cautionary advice for jab-hungry jet-setters.
What private hospitals say
Thonburi Healthcare Group’s chairman Dr Boon Vanasin said in a recent media interview that when a patient is diagnosed with COVID-19 in a private hospital, they may either be admitted or transferred to another designated medical facility. In this case, the treatment will be free.
“But if the patient refuses the process prescribed by the government and chooses to be treated in their own hospital, then they will have to pay the difference between the medical cover provided by the government and fees charged by private hospitals,” he told media recently.
Boon said the cost of services like specialists’ fees and medical supplies at private hospitals and state facilities are different. As a result, the patient might have to shoulder the difference.
For instance, Thonburi Healthcare Group charges patients with mild or no symptoms Bt40,000 for a 14-day stay in a hospitel. If the patient has a serious underlying condition such as heart disease or uncontrollable diabetes, then the bill rises to Bt200,000 on average if they stay in a private room. In serious cases, where ICU care and hospitalization of up to one month is required, the bill may rise to Bt1 million-Bt1.5 million.
The amount of COVID-contaminated garbage, discarded face masks in particular, has increased to an average of 16 tonnes a day, according to the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA). About 548 tonnes of Covid-contaminated garbage was recorded from April 1st to May 5th. On May 5th alone, up to 70 tonnes of contaminated waste was found.
How to handle bill disputes
Patients are advised to call the NHSO 1330 hotline if they are asked to pay for COVID-19 care. So far, the Public Health Ministry has resolved 44 complaints involving 75 patients. All these patients have been refunded the money taken from them by private hospitals, who said the money was collected by mistake or taken as a guarantee.
Operators of medical facilities found illegally charging COVID-19 patients face up to two years in jail and/or a maximum fine of Bt40,000 under the law.
However, a man identifying himself as Danai Rung says he called the NHSO hotline to complain about his medical bill but was told that the hospital treating him was not part of the NHSO project. He was urged to lodge a formal complaint.
“The claim that COVID-19 treatment is free at all hospitals is definitely untrue,” he said on Public Health Ministry’s Facebook page for COVID-19 updates. “I have had to pay Bt340,000 of the Bt480,000 bill. The insurance only covered about Bt140,000.”
Danai has promised to inform netizens if he is indeed reimbursed.
By Thai PBS World’s General Desk