Thailand’s universal healthcare coverage is commonly known as the Gold Card Program. Before the system was computerized, citizens used a gold-color card issued by the government to prove their eligibility.
Now, you can just use your national ID, but people still call it the Gold Card.
The 2020 Gold Card budget is 191 billion baht, covering 49 million Thais at 3,600 baht per person. Last week, reports stated that the government planned to cut 2.4 billion baht from the budget and allocate it for COVID-19 relief.
Following public outrage, the government has since backed down.
Here’s why the Gold Card is important to the people.
“For the rest of my life, I will be grateful to Thaksin [Shinawatra],” said a middle-aged lady suffering from kidney disease.
With a smile and tears in her eyes, she continued. “No one has helped me with my illness. I had to pay for all medical care myself.”
“But now, everyone has the right to medical care.”
This was from an interview I did in the early 2000s, back when universal healthcare was relatively new to Thailand.
Ahead of the 2001 national election, Thaksin’s Thai Rak Thai Party campaigned on the “30-baht for every illness scheme.” After the party became government, universal health care was introduced nationwide in 2002.
The rationale behind the 30 baht price tag was that if universal healthcare was free, some people might abuse the system by going to the doctor for every little thing. However, the coverage is now free.
With the introduction of universal healthcare, there were praises, as well as criticisms.
A friend of mine suffers from Nervous System Disease. She went to a private hospital for medical care. After going through a series of bureaucratic procedures, she was denied treatment. The reason? The treatment was considered too costly.
Apparently, it wasn’t quite for every illness. Nonetheless, 49 million people rely on the coverage
Despite many people crediting Thaksin for universal healthcare however, it was a medical doctor who worked tirelessly to make medical care accessible for all Thais.
The current universal healthcare system dated back to 1990. It was a brainchild of Doctor Sanguan Nittayarumpong, who had done a lot of work and research in rural Thailand.
Later, he proposed the universal healthcare project to the Chuan Leekpai Democrat Government, but the proposal did not make it through parliament.
Ahead of the 2001 election, Doctor Sanguan knocked on the doors of many political parties, looking for a taker. It was with Thai Rak Thai that he found a sympathetic ear.
For his expertise and effort, he became Secretary of the National Health Security Office (NHSO).
Doctor Sanguan passed away in 2007.