International law firms in Thailand have reiterated their earlier advice to foreign tourists planning to visit Thailand about the importance of purchasing travel and health insurance for their trip.
In April 2013 the Thai law firms issued advice to this affect, with the Thai government at the time considering making it compulsory for foreigners to buy health insurance before arriving in Thailand.
Three months later and various state agencies have now agreed in principle with a Public Health Ministry proposal to require foreign tourists to buy travel and health insurance before they arrive. The ministry toward the end of June made the proposal at a meeting with representatives from Airports of Thailand, the Royal Thai Police and other government ministries.
The ministry proposed the cost of health insurance coverage might be included in foreigners’ visa fees. In the case of non visa tourists, the coverage might have to be paid at immigration checkpoints, or the cost could be added to airline ticket fares. The exact method of payment was to be discussed at a later meeting.
The June meeting agreed on the setting up of a sub committee to work on the issue and decide the level and type of insurance coverage that would be required for foreign visitors in cases of emergency care and the return of dead bodies.
It all follows the Thai cabinet in January having asked the Public Health Ministry to set up a healthcare system for foreigners who are not members of universal healthcare schemes. The government was concerned about the financial burden on Thailand’s state hospitals which were having to provide free medical services to foreign tourists.
The Public Health Ministry earlier this year said 2.5 million foreigners out of a total 22 million visitors to Thailand in 2012 visited Thai hospitals, some of them unable to pay for their treatment. The main situations involved foreigners hospitalized in emergencies, particularly traffic accidents and heart attacks, and the costs associated with taking care of corpses, particularly autopsies and cold storage.
State hospitals in popular tourist resorts saw themselves shouldering much of the financial burdern. Banglamung Hospital near Pattaya estimated unpaid bills from foreigners amounted to Bt2 million in 2012. Vachira Phuket Hospital claimed free treatment for foreigners was costing it Bt3 million baht a year. The total costs nationwide are in the region of Bt70 million annually.
One law firm in Thailand noted that many foreigners visiting Thailand as part of a group tour or who had purchased their travel arrangements through a travel agency usually have insurance, but a lot of those visitors travelling by themselves, and expats, did not. The company advises visitors and expats to obtain cover before or on arrival in the kingdom.
This advice is particularly pertinent, when considering foreign embassies these days usually will not cover hospital bills.
Following on from their advice pertaining to health and travel insurance, the law firms in Thailand welcome enquiries from foreign visitors wanting to know more about the issue.
The Public Health Ministry was also preparing a draft on a health insurance system for four different groups of foreigners staying in Thailand. These are Myanmar, Lao and Cambodian labourers, followers of the labourers, those taking treatment at hospitals near the border, and tourists who do not have a health insurance scheme.
If approved, the foreigners staying in Thailand would be covered with a complete health insurance program and have easy access to medical treatment.
Thailand’s Public Health Ministry also plans to help neighbouring countries set up their own universal healthcare systems, with the aim of helping improve medical care in border areas and reducing the strain on Thai hospitals located near the borders.