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File photo

Controlling medical prices pose a tough test

national January 23, 2019 01:00

By CHULARAT SAENGPASSA,
WICHIT CHAITRONG
THE NATION

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WITH THE Cabinet approving the resolution to control the prices of medical supplies and services yesterday, a bigger test awaits the government as to whether it will be able to ensure implementation.

Complaints are now growing from private medical facilities that warn the regulation poses a threat to make the country a medical hub and also denies people alternatives. And now claims are being made that people buying health insurance will also bear the brunt.

“We will monitor the government’s next moves closely,” Supatra Nacapew, the chief of the Independent Consumer Protection Committee’s sub-panel on food, drugs and other health products, said yesterday.

She pointed out that the government had in the past failed to implement control over medicines.

While medicines have been on the controlled list since early 2018, their prices remain exceptionally high at private hospitals.

“Medicine prices at some private hospitals are between 70 and 400 times higher than the prices charged elsewhere,” Supatra said. 

Regarding implementing the controls, Commerce Minister Sontirat Sontijirawong said a subcommittee would be established to prepare measures that would be fair to all.

“This subcommittee will include representatives from various sides such as the Commerce Ministry, the Public Health Ministry, private hospitals and consumers,” he said. 

Sontirat is trying to downplay concerns that government control over the prices of medical supplies and services would seriously damage the country’s private medical-care sector.

“It’s not true that we will be setting the ceiling for private hospitals’ fees,” he said.

Sontirat

He pointed out that authorities had never before set the price ceiling for items on the Commerce Ministry’s controlled-product list, with the exception of sugar. 

“As for all other items, we have only checked the cost to ensure these items are reasonably priced,” he said.

Supatra is not happy with Sontirat’s explanation. “The minister should not jump quickly to such a conclusion,” she said. 

Supatra said other countries, including Singapore, had successfully set a price ceiling for their private hospitals – at up to 2.5 times higher than the rate charged by state hospitals. 

Commitee of Foungdation for consumers press conference .

Dr Aurchat Kanjanapitak, a former president of the Private Hospital Association of Thailand, said private medical facilities would definitely comply with the Cabinet resolution but seek to stay afloat at the same time.

“This means we will list the costs of various services including patient transport, registration service, reception services and drug-stock management on medical bills. These items used to be grouped under the prices of medicines,” Aurchat said. 

He believed such a move would affect health-insurance policyholders, most of whom are eligible to claim reimbursements for medicines only.

“The Office of Insurance Commission will have to think about solutions,” Aurchat said. 

He added that if the controls were too strict, private hospitals might consider relocating their businesses to neighbouring countries. 

“It should be noted that more than 300 private hospitals have generated more than Bt10 billion for the state,” Aurchat said. 

According to him, after Singapore introduced controls on the price charged by its private hospitals, it lost business opportunities to Thailand. 

“Should we go down the same path?” he asked. 

Aurchat believed the strict control of private hospitals’ prices would please only about two per cent of hospital patients, and upset the rest. 

In his opinion, the subcommittee should be flexible in a bid to minimise the negative impact. The president of the Thai Medical Error Network, Preeyanan Lorsermvattana, said if a ceiling were not set, there would be the risk of private hospitals charging whatever they wanted. 

Preeyanan also pushed for a One Stop Service Command to help investigate whether medical facilities flouted the price controls. 

“Don’t just approve the price controls in principle. The government must show actual implementation if it does not just intend to fool people,” she said. 

Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI) research director Somchai Jitsuchon said the first step should be to require private hospitals to make their service prices public.

“Patients should know the price before they go to the hospitals,” he said, “Price announcement will encourage competition.” 

He disagreed with the suggestion of setting a price ceiling.

Viroj Na Ranong, another TDRI research director, said there were many factors behind private hospitals’ increasing prices. Among them are increasingly advanced technologies and growing medical tourism. 

In his view, private hospitals will find ways to circumvent the government rules in the end, no mater what control measures are introduced. 

“In the short run, their prices may be controlled. In the long run, they will find ways to charge patients more,” he said. 

On medical tourists, Viroj suggested that the government should collect a specific tax from them.

“These medical tourists do not have to shoulder the cost of medical training shouldered by Thai taxpayers. So, they should pay additional taxes,” he said. 

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