By Chularat Saengpassa
A PROMINENT activist has urged every political party to express a clear stance on the country’s universal healthcare scheme and other state welfare issues ahead of the upcoming election.
The call surfaced yesterday amid growing concerns that influential groups intend to be selective in their provision of state help and would not be providing welfare for all members of society.
The universal healthcare scheme now offers most types of medical services for 48 million people in Thailand for free. Any change would affect the majority of Thais.
“We will organise a forum to hear political parties’ policies on the universal healthcare scheme, the country’s healthcare and problems facing the poor,” Nimit Tien-udom said yesterday on behalf of the People’s Network for State Welfare.
The Pheu Thai and Future Forward parties have expressed support for the universal healthcare scheme but Nimit said he was not sure what stance other political parties would take.
“As for the Palang Pracharat Party, I believe it will take the same stance as the current government,” he said.
In line with many other activists, Nimit suspected that the current government was moving Thailand away from the “state welfare” vision.
State welfare involves the state playing the core role in the protecting and promoting economic and social well-being for all its citizens.
The universal healthcare scheme, which has received international recognition, is widely seen as a solid example of how the country can take care of its people.
“The current government views people as a burden. It focuses only on financial figures,” Nimit said.
He said that his network’s concerns about the current government’s viewpoint were not unwarranted.
He pointed out that the government had already started implementing a Welfare Card project, which entitled registered low-income earners to state aid in the form of a living and travel allowance worth more than Bt1,000 a month. To be eligible for the project, one must earn no more than Bt100,000 yearly.
Moreover, the National Health Policy Board Bill sailed through the Cabinet last week. If the bill gets the green light from the National Legislative Assembly, people will have less representation in creating public-health policies.
In the eyes of Nimit, the latest developments suggest the junta government and powerful groups are working to change the essence of the universal healthcare scheme.
“Apparently, there are efforts to destroy the scheme,” he said.
There are now widespread concerns that it may reduce the scope of its benefits or allow only registered low-income earners to stay in the universal healthcare scheme.
Khunying Sudarat Keyuraphan, a popular politician affiliated with the Pheu Thai Party, has lately attacked both the Welfare Card project and the National Health Policy Board Bill.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha is downplaying the criticism and insists that the Welfare Card project was implemented with good intentions.
“We aim to boost their income and their happiness,” he said.
Prayut said his government had started several initiatives to solve the country’s problems and everyone should stop politicising them.
“Let’s not fall back into the old cycle of politics where various sides keep attacking one another,” he said.
Sustarum Thammaboosadee, a co-founder of the Future Forward Party and a lecturer at Thammsat University, previously warned that the Welfare Card Project would eventually promote the concept of giving out of pity.
He belives the implementation of the project will hurt people’s dignity and camouflage the fact that big gaps exist because the elite have monopolised the economy and taken too much from it.