Mandatory health insurance for retirement visa holders likely to take effect in July

BANGKOK (The Nation/ANN) - Foreigners aged 50 and above living in Thailand on a long-stay visa will likely have to buy health insurance from July onwards, as authorities are preparing guidelines to enforce the new rules. 

Approved by the Cabinet last month, the new regulation will require expats on the long-stay non-immigrant O-A visa to have health insurance that offers Bt40,000 coverage for outpatient treatment and Bt400,000 for inpatient. 
The requirement was introduced because foreign expats have piled up unpaid medical bills of more than Bt300 million since 2016. 
“We will ask the Immigration Bureau, the Foreign Ministry and the Insurance Department for additional details and implementation guidelines next week,” Saowapa Jongkittipong, who leads the Health Service Support Department’s International Health Division, said yesterday. 
She said that once the rule is implemented, applicants for the non-immigrant O-A visa, which is valid for one year from the date of issue, would be required to buy health insurance. 
“Current holders of this visa will have to produce proof of their health insurance for visa renewal,” she said. 
According to Saowapa, this requirement is necessary because medical treatments provided to many elderly long-time foreign residents have weighed heavily on the state coffers. 
Last year, foreigners incurred Bt305 million in unpaid medical bills. Foreigners in 2017 left Bt346 million in unpaid medical bills. If categorised by the number of medical visits, statistics show about one-fifth of foreign patients did not pay their bills. 

Huge unpaid bills
For instance, foreigners made 3.42 million medical visits last year, and did not pay for 680,000 of them, while in 2017, foreigners made 3.3 million medical visits and did not pay for 565,000 of them. 
Saowapa said further discussions among relevant agencies would help establish which diseases would be covered under the mandatory health insurance. 
The ministries of Interior and Foreign Affairs have been instructed to inform all foreigners of these new requirements.
Currently, citizens of only 14 countries require health insurance when seeking Thai visas for five years and above. 
Meanwhile, the Public Health Ministry has suggested that visa applicants purchase health insurance from one of the companies listed on www.longstay.tgia.org. The ministry has also told relevant agencies to plan how health insurance policies bought overseas will be verified. 
The problem of bad debts incurred by foreigners has existed for many years. 
Earlier this year, Health Service Support Department director-general Dr Nattawuth Prasertsiripong said his department had decided to establish claim centres in Chon Buri, Chiang Mai, Phuket, Phang Nga and Surat Thani provinces to help state hospitals collect what is owed to them by foreign patients. The very fact that such centres are required reflects the severity of the problem. 
Taking note of this, the Public Health Ministry proposed to the Cabinet early last month that applicants of non-immigrant O-A visa be required to purchase health insurance. 

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