By PRATCH RUJIVANAROM
Preeyanan Lorsermvattana, a leading activist on consumer rights protection in the medical sector, noted that the first anniversary of the UCEP rights proclamation last week was an opportunity to take stock of progress. Many patients remain deprived of their right to access healthcare and are left with crippling debts from healthcare expenses.
The right to universal coverage in an emergency health situation was announced by the National Institute for Emergency Medicine (NIEM) on April 1, 2017. UCEP gives emergency patients suffering from six life-threatening diseases the right to receive free medical treatment for the first 72 hours after admission to the closest hospital before being transferred to the local hospital at which they are officially registered.
But it’s not working out that way, according to watchdogs.
“There are still many problems related to the implementing of UCEP,” said Preeyanan, “as even the authorities have imposed the law to punish any hospital that does not comply with this right and still unlawfully collects money for medical expenses during the first 72 hours”.
A full year after the right was recognised, she said two major problems remain for patients seeking to have it recognised at an individual hospital. First, some private hospitals have intentionally misled NIEM through falsely reporting that individual patient cases were not sufficiently critical for the patient to receive the free treatment. In other cases, despite NIEM having decided that the right applied to patients, the hospitals have refused to honour that requirement, she said.
Preeyanan cited the case of Tawanna Banyaem from early last month. Tawanna’s father was suffering from a serious illness, so she took him to receive emergency medical care at the nearest private hospital.
According to Tawanna, despite her father’s illness being included in the categories allowing him to claim the UCEP right, the hospital refused to offer free treatment as required under the regulation and instead insisted on charging the family around Bt150,000 and forced them to apply to NIEM for a reimbursement. That approach is contrary to normal procedures in UCEP-triggered cases.
Meanwhile, NIEM reported that as of the end of March, there were around 50,000 requests from patients to trigger their UCEP rights, but only around 10,000 cases fit with the categories. Another approximately 100 cases involved patients who found problems with claiming their right at hospitals and sent their complaints to NIEM.
The problems with UCEP are not the only barrier faced by sick Thais as they seek medical help.
Preeyanan also highlighted a problem regulating the cost of medical treatment. Currently, there remains no medical price control and the private hospitals are allowed full freedom to set their own healthcare prices.
“The authorities need to set up a committee to regulate medical treatment costs to ensure that the prices are appropriate,” said Preeyanan, who cites a recent case of a patient in the intensive-care unit (ICU) having the costs of dental surgery added to his bill.
“The regulating authorities in these matters must have the courage to enforce the law in order to protect the people’s interest,” she said.
Preeyanan noted that her current campaign on Change.org requesting that a regulation committee on medical expense control be set up had already garnered more than 50,000 signatures. She is planning to soon present the petition with these signatures to the prime minister.
Chananchida Tantaplin, the secretary of the Independent Consumer Protection Subcommittee on Food, Drugs, and Other Health Products, said the group had also been campaigning for a regulatory system for controlling medical expenses.
Last month, the group submitted a letter to the Internal Trade Department, which is the agency tasked with controlling the price of |all products and services in the country.
Chananchida said that the director of the Price and Quantity Administration Bureau, who accepted the letter, told her that the Public Health Ministry should be more directly responsible for this matter, but that the bureau would pass the letter over to the Commerce Ministry.