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Commerce Ministry stands by price control list

Hospital group weighs in against plan

Commerce Minister Sontirat Sontijirawong meets with members of the Private Hospital Association.

Despite growing opposition from private hospitals, the Commerce Ministry is standing by plans to find appropriate measures to keep a lid on medical supplies and medical service charges to prevent price gouging.

Commerce Minister Sontirat Sontijirawong on Friday said the public could rest assured that the ministry will proceed with putting medical supplies and medical service charges on the state price control list.

But he acknowledged that the plan to forward the proposal to the cabinet for approval this coming Tuesday could be delayed after growing complaints from private hospitals that their business will suffer under the new regime.

SET-listed private hospitals cried foul after their share prices plunged following approval of the proposal by the central committee on prices of goods and services on Wednesday.

Once items are approved for the price control list, state officials will be allowed to exercise power to issue measures to regulate medical supplies and medical services, such as recovery room charges, food charges, and X-ray and patient care charges.

Wednesday's meeting also approved setting up a subcommittee to find appropriate measures concerning domestic medical supplies and medical service prices.

The subcommittee will include representatives from the Public Health Ministry, the Commerce Ministry, the Thai Life Assurance Association, the Thai General Insurance Association, consumer protection organisations and private hospitals.

on Friday, the Commerce Ministry called a special meeting with representatives from the Public Health Ministry, the Foundation for Consumers, the Thai Life Assurance Association, the Thai General Insurance Association and the Private Hospital Association after private hospital operators asked to meet the minister to explain the impact of the proposed measures.

"The meeting discussed the approval by the central committee on prices of goods and services to put medical supplies and medical service charges on the state price control list," Mr Sontirat said. "Participants showed both support and disagreement with the approval, with some private hospitals arguing that medicine, medical supplies and medical service are a complex issue. The same illness may have different treatments and different prescriptions."

According to Mr Sontirat, private hospitals are also concerned about the impact and need more clarity regarding the measures.

The Commerce Ministry needs to hold more discussions with all stakeholders to ensure that the measures, once put in place, will be fair to all parties, whether consumers or private hospitals, he said.

Pongpat Patanavanich, president of the Private Hospital Association, said his group disagrees with the Commerce Ministry's idea. He said private hospitals are already supervised by the Public Health Ministry.

"Currently, all Thai people are eligible for free basic medical services under the universal healthcare scheme," Dr Pongpat said. "They don't need to buy medicines or seek treatment from private hospitals. And in the event of an emergency, there is the Universal Coverage for Emergency Patients plan, which offers compulsory emergency healthcare for up to 72 hours."

According to Dr Pongpat, private hospitals' service charges also include investment in high technology and advanced medical devices that have led to Thailand becoming one of the world's top medical tourism destinations.

The proposed measures may affect the government's goal to develop Thailand as Asean's medical hub and hit medical tourism, which brings in more than 100 billion baht a year, he said.

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