Authorities to track down foreigners who fail to pay medical bills in Thai hospitals

Authorities to track down foreigners who fail to pay medical bills in Thai hospitals
Authorities to track down foreigners who fail to pay medical bills in Thai hospitals

Officials are also considering making it a mandatory requirement for all elderly expats to prove they have medical insurance if they want to stay in Thailand long term

Foreigners in Thailand who receive medical treatment at state hospitals but leave without paying their bill are the subject of a new crackdown by Thai authorities. The issue of foreigners not paying medical bills is so big that the government will set up new ‘claims centres’ to go after foreigners in order to collect any money due. According to a report in the Nation, foreign tourists failed to pay a combined 300 million baht in medical bills after receiving treatment in state hospitals in 2018.

The problem is now so severe that the Health Service Support Department has announced plans to setup claims centres in a number of locations popular with foreign tourists, including Chiang Mai, Phuket, Chonburi, Phang Nga and Surat Thani. “These problems mostly hit tourist cities,” Health Service Support Department (HSSD) director-general Dr Nattawuth Prasertsiripong said. “The centres will work with relevant parties and follow up on payments,” Nattawuth said. The move comes after a public health official told the Nation that foreigners often run out of money during their stay in Thailand. “And when they need medical services, they simply don’t pay.”

The unnamed official said that there have been instances where some foreigners have received treatment in a Thai state hospital for several months, then fled without paying a single baht. The authorities often reach out to foreign embassies in a bid to help recoup the outstanding medical bills, without success. Some hospitals demand foreigners sign an agreement stating they will pay later but even that doesn’t always ensure the foreigner pays. Nattawuth said it is increasingly difficult for hospitals to collect money once the patient has left. “This is partly because state hospitals don’t have expertise in debt collection. So we hope the claim centres will be the solution.”

While Hua Hin has not been identified as a location where there is a problem with foreigners not paying their medical bills, expect a claim centre to be setup in the town in the not too distant future, after officials said that “many more” centres will be set up throughout Thailand over the next year. The large amount of medical bills going unpaid has once again raised the question of whether the Thai government will make it a mandatory requirement for foreigners in Thailand to have adequate medical and/or travel insurance. Natthawuth said he hoped travel insurance would become mandatory for all foreign visitors to save state hospitals from having to shoulder the extra burden.

“For now, at least we believe all tour operators bringing people into Thailand should require that their customers have travel insurance,” he said. Officials said that they are also considering making it a requirement for elderly foreigners in Thailand to prove they have medical insurance. This will help ensure that elderly expats do not become a burden on Thailand’s public healthcare system, Natthawuth said. Thailand’s medical-hub committee last year approved in principle a plan to require newly arrived long-stay immigrants to purchase health insurance for their first year here. They and other foreigners planning to stay in Thailand for one year would be able to buy up to Bt40,000 worth of outpatient coverage and Bt400,000 of inpatient coverage.