Is health care in Thailand free?
There are two things I notice about many westerners living in Thailand or who visit often.
First, they often do not speak Thai, so misunderstand or exaggerate many things about Thai culture. Second, they still live a predominantly western lifestyle.
So, when someone asks advice about dealing with a problem in Thailand, they will often respond in a western manner.
Case in point, health care in Thailand.
Most westerners do not know about medical care costs for Thai nationals. They also have no idea if their health care is free, if they have to pay, how much they have to pay and if care at government hospitals is good health care.
They will also often recommend private hospitals like Bumrungrad — the most expensive hospital in Thailand — to a Thai, or to a westerner with a Thai girlfriend, when there really is no need for such expense.
And no, I am not slamming Bumrungrad. It is an excellent hospital — one of the best in southeast Asia. It is just that you can get the same good health care at other private hospitals in Bangkok for half the price, and free if you are a Thai citizen and go to a government hospital.
That is why I thought it worthwhile giving some quick information about the Thai health care system when it comes to Thais.
So that, the next time someone asks you for advice about health care in Thailand for a Thai girlfriend, friend or co-worker, you can give them correct advice and not just the ‘western response’.
How much do Thais pay for health care?
Health care in Thailand is technically free. In that, it falls under the Universal Care Scheme. This is the 30 Baht Health Care scheme you have probably heard of, and basically means every Thai gets the medical care they need for just 30 baht.
As many Thai hospitals now don’t even bother collecting the 30 baht, much of the time it is a free health care system.
Some Thais do have private health care insurance as either a supplement or as their main health care, but everyone is covered under the Universal Care Scheme.
So, how much do Thais pay for health care?
Nothing, or very little depending on the care they receive.
Is all health care in Thailand free?
Health care is free as long as the Thai gets it at a government hospital or clinic that is located in the area they are registered in on their Ta Bian Ban (house registration papers). If they get health care outside their district, then they have to pay for it.
Even if that health care is at a government hospital.
The exception to this is if a Thai needs emergency medical care. Then they are allowed to go to any government hospital in the area where they happen to be at the time.
Private hospitals are also required to provide emergency care for free for any emergency situation and for up to 72 hours afterwards. That gives them time to give initial treatment, and then to arrange transfer to a government hospital for follow up treatment.
Of course, some private hospitals in Thailand try to shirk their responsibility but it is Thai law. So, if you are ever with a Thai who is having a problem being admitted to a private hospital for an emergency situation, point that out and insist on admittance.
Health care is also not completely free for a Thai if they want things that are not covered under the Universal Care Scheme. These tend to be things like private rooms which, of course, they will have to pay for.
Other than that, most Thais can expect to get completely free medical care, even if they have to have major surgery.
And, yes, the care they receive in government hospitals in most areas of Thailand is excellent.
Is Thai medical care good at a government hospital?
Yes, it is excellent.
Again, you will hear westerners who have never had treatment at a government hospital talk about how terrible it is. It is not.
Thais get very good medical care at government hospitals and, again, it is free.
Just read what Luma Health (a Thai insurance company) says about government health care:
“Some of Thailand’s premier government hospitals, such as Chulalongkorn, Ramathibodee and Siriraj, are staffed with exceptional doctors and are some of the best equipped hospitals in the world.”
If you read the complete article, you will see even they are telling you that you might get better health care at a Thai government hospital than at a private one.
You will, of course, hear Thais complain about having to wait, After all, just like in any hospital in any country in the world, you may have to wait for an appointment to see a doctor or to get treated at a hospital if you arrive without an appointment.
But, in my experience with government hospitals in Thailand as compared to public hospitals in the U.S., UK, Germany, Austria and France, the wait time was no different and no more annoying. The treatment itself was excellent.
In fact, during my almost 20 years living in Thailand, I have had most of my medical care taken care of at government hospitals (Sirindhorn Hospital, Rajavithi Hospital and King Chulalongkorn Memorial Hospital), and have always had exceptional care.
Yes, as a non-Thai, I have to pay for it. But the costs at a Thai government hospital are far, far less than at a private hospital, and the care I received was just as good.
So…the next time someone asks you how much Thais pay for health care, or if they should take their Thai girlfriend to a private hospital, you answer should be “it’s free” and “probably not”.
Hope that helps!
Finally, watch the interesting video below about the Faculty of Medicine at Siriraj Hospital, Mahidol University — one of the top government hospitals in Bangkok.
As you will see, their training is just as good as western medical training, and many of their graduates go on to providing exceptional medical care in government hospitals all over Thailand.