Price controls will hurt medical hub goal, private hospitals warn

PRIVATE HOSPITALS are now trying to thwart moves to control their prices of medicines and services.


Speaking via the Private Hospitals Association of Thailand, their representatives told a press conference yesterday that the move would only hurt the country’s medical-hub status and take away people’s right to choose, he said.


“First of all, the prices of medicines have long been controlled by law,” the association’s president, Dr Pongpat Patanavanich, said. 


The price of medicine found on the medical bill in private hospitals was so much higher than that at pharmacies and state hospitals because these prices contained hidden costs not shouldered by other operators. 


Pongpat dismissed claims that without medical-price controls at private hospitals, people risked falling into medical bankruptcies. 


“All Thais can access free treatment through one of the country’s major healthcare schemes,” he pointed out.


These schemes are the universal healthcare scheme covering most Thais, the social security scheme covering about 10 million people working in registered businesses, and the medical benefit scheme for civil servants and their family members. 


“This means private medical facilities are in the market as alternatives,” Pongpat said. 


He also said that in life-threatening emergency cases, patients in Thailand could attend a private facility and receive free medical treatment for 72 hours. 


Beyond that time “this means if a patient chooses to go to a private hospital, he or she must be prepared [to pay too],” he said.


Pongpat emphasised that medical price control would affect Thailand’s goal to become an international medical hub. At present, about 4.23 million foreigners seek medical services in Thailand every year. In 2016, medical businesses generated more than Bt234 billion in income. 


“Thailand is now in fact well set to become an international hub, particularly in the CLMV [Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam] region,” he said.


Pongpat said his association was worried about the Commerce Ministry’s efforts to control medical prices at private hospitals. 


“Unlike state hospitals, we directly and fully shoulder the cost of operations,” he said. 


Foundation for Consumers’ secretary-general Saree Ongsomwang has lately expressed full support for a medical price control plan. 


“The risk of medical bankruptcy is there. Some patients go to private hospitals with symptoms they think fall into the category of life-threatening emergency cases and are told later that their cases are not considered life threatening by medical standards,” Saree explained. 


She said it should be possible for authorities to specify how high the charges for medicine could go at private hospitals.


“Those prices can be higher than pharmacies. But there should be a ceiling,” she said. 


Saree said efforts to control private hospitals’ medical prices would reduce brain drain in the state sector. 


“If we don’t do anything, more and more medical specialists will move to private hospitals. In the end, state hospitals may be left with general practice doctors,” she said. 


Yupadee Sirisinsuk, a board member of the foundation, said she had heard that several players had been trying to block authorities’ efforts to control medical prices.