BT30 HEALTHCARE SCHEME
PM 'using plan to scare voters'
Contrary to Thaksin's statements, coverage won't disappear if he's ousted, say activists
Health activists and consumer rights groups slammed Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra yesterday for misleading the public by claiming that the Bt30 universal healthcare scheme would go down with him if he lost the premiership.
Although the "Bt30 for all treatment" slogan appears to be a trademark of Thai Rak Thai, implementation of the scheme is enforced by the 2002 National Health Security Act, said Saree Aongsomwang, president of the Consumer Protection Foundation. To cancel the scheme would mean Parliament would have to revoke the law.
"But I don't think any political party has the guts to destroy [the Bt30 scheme]. That would be so much against the will and interests of voters," Saree said. "In the UK, everybody complains about the quality of primary health care, but no government dares cancel the system that is one of the basic rights of its citizens."
Somchai Jitsuchon, a senior economist from the Thailand Development Research Institute, agreed that despite the financial woes that have plagued the scheme since its inception in 2001, the health scheme, which covers 48 million of Thailand's 62 million people, would continue with or without Thai Rak Thai in government.
"The Bt30 scheme is the least populist [of Thai Rak Thai's policies] when compared to the village fund and others," Somchai told The Nation. The project will need adjustment, but universal health care is a basic right of the people. The new government, no matter what party it is from, will have to continue it.
Thaksin told voters during recent election campaigning in the provinces that they should vote for him to return as prime minister if they still wanted access to healthcare under the Bt30 scheme. He said if he wasn't returned, the scheme might be discontinued.
Many analysts and opinion polls have suggested that the scheme is a chief reason for Thai Rak Thai's landslide electoral victories.
Nimit Tien-udom, director of the Aids Access Foundation, was upset that Thaksin had misled the public by claiming that the project was the brainchild of Thai Rak Thai. He said the project originated from decades of hard work by doctors, academics and health activists to establish universal healthcare in Thailand.
"Thaksin has no right to take universal healthcare down the drain with him," Nimit said.
"In fact, he hijacked our project. We were campaigning for this project even before Thai Rak Thai was born. "
Nimit recalled that several health and welfare groups, including his own, launched a public campaign for universal healthcare in 2000. The groups gathered about 60,000 signatures of people from all walks of life to propose the National Health Security Bill. Now, about 80,000 HIV-infected people from a total of 140,000 who need medication receive basic anti-viral drugs under the scheme.
Health and consumer activists held a press conference yesterday to reassure the public they need not worry about Thaksin's threat. They said the press conference stemmed in part from growing concerns voiced by villagers and queries appearing on websites.
They said a new government should expand the scheme so it truly became universal. Health services should be provided free of charge to people who are currently ineligible because they do not have ID cards, such as the homeless, migrant labourers and ethnic groups.