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Govt takes concrete steps to stop overpricing at private hospitals

May 30. 2019
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By THE NATION

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PRIVATE HOSPITALS will no longer be allowed to hit patients with huge bills after authorities introduced clear legal measures yesterday to curb hefty prices.

The new regulations, controlling the price of medicines, medical supplies and medical services, went into effect yesterday.

Many patients go to private hospitals to avoid the crowds and long queues at state medical facilities, but many find themselves being “ripped off”.

Now, with so many complaints filed against private medical facilities, the government can no longer turn a blind eye. Earlier this year, Foundation for Consumers secretary-general Saree Ongsomwang said that in one case, the medical bill went beyond Bt23 million. 

In another case, a patient was charged Bt30,000 for a simple diarrhoea complaint. 

“If hospitals involve many specialists for simple symptoms, like a headache or stomach ache, only to charge the patients a hefty fee, then that can be grounds for complaint and legal action,” Internal Trade Department’s director-general Wichai Phochanakit said yesterday. 

He added that any hospital or executives found guilty of delivering unnecessary treatment and overcharging patients face the risk of seven years in jail and/or a fine of Bt140,000. 

From yesterday, hospitals joined importers, exporters, manufacturers and distributors, in having to declare purchasing and selling prices for their goods. The new rules cover 3,892 medicines, medical supplies and medical services listed in the Universal Coverage for Emergency Patients. 

“The failure to do so will result in a jail term of up to one year and/or a fine of Bt20,000 plus a Bt2,000 daily fine throughout the period of delay,” Wichai explained. He said the prices declared by hospitals will be displayed on his department’s and the hospitals’ websites. 

“Private hospitals are also required to display a QR code on their websites so patients can conveniently check the prices,” he continued. 

A recent review found that at some private hospitals, medicines were being sold at prices that were 29.33 per cent to 8,766.79 per cent higher than their cost price. In other words, the price difference could be anything between Bt10.83 and Bt28,862 per unit. 

For instance, Orfarin costs Bt2 per unit, but is on average sold at some private hospitals for Bt13.7, and in some as much as Bt36 per unit. Amphotericin-B costs Bt452, but is on average sold for Bt937 in some hospitals. The price of the medication can even go as high as Bt2,200 in some places. 

“Our new rules aim to ensure fair prices. We will significantly expand the number of medicines, medical supplies and medical services covered under the new regulations,” Wichai said. 

He added that from now on, private hospitals must inform patients, if asked, of the estimated cost of treatment. 

“Also, under the new regulations, prescriptions must include the generic and trade names of a medicine, what form the medication is in, the amount and consumption instructions,” he said. “Bills should also specify the per-unit price of the medicine.”

Wichai added that hospitals failing to comply with this stipulation can face up to five years in jail and/or a fine of Bt100,000. 

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