Expats applaud Thai government for taking on overpricing at private hospitals

Published:  31 May at 6 PM
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Thailand’s private hospitals will no longer be able to hit patents with massively overpriced treatment bills following a government introduction of laws to keep charges in check.

The government’s decision follows a massive number of complaints by expats and Thais against local private medical facilities all over the country, with the phrase ‘being ripped off’ a familiar comment by former patients. Whilst many expats as well as locals choose to go private in order to avoid long queues at state-run hospitals, an increasing number have been taking to social media to describe their negative experiences. Reports include unnecessary procedures or tests and vastly inflated prices for medication available cheaply at local pharmacies.

Early this year, a report from the secretary-general of Thailand’s Foundation for Consumers described one case where the medical bill was more than 23 million baht, over 700,000 dollars, with another expat patient charged 30,000 baht ($937) for a diarrhoea diagnosis and medicine. According to Internal Trade Department director-general Wichai Phochanakit, bringing in a specialist for simple ailments such as stomach problems or headaches is a license to overcharge and will now be considered grounds for legal action as well as complaints. In such cases, he added, any hospital found to have given unnecessary treatment as well as overcharging risks a fine of 140,000bht, and those involved will also risk seven years’ jail time.

As from yesterday, private hospitals must now declare selling and purchasing prices for all drugs, with the new law covering medical supplies, medical services and just under 4,000 medicaments. Failure to display such a list on private hospitals’ websites will also result in fines and jail time. A recent review of drugs costs revealed prices to patients elevated by just under 30 per cent to 9,000 per cent higher than the cost of the medicines. According to Wichai, private patients who request an estimated cost of diagnosis and treatment must receive exactly that, and prescriptions must give generic names as well as trade names, with bills having to state the medicine’s per-unit price.

Action on this issue has been a long time coming, allowing investors in the private hospital sector to reap huge rewards whilst expats and locals struggle to pay their bills. The connection between non-payment and overpriced treatment has to be made, as does a possible link between overcharging and the controversial stipulation that retired expats must have health insurance provided only by Thai insurance companies as they are the most likely to avoid payment.
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