Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul insists the Universal Coverage for Emergency Patients (UCEP) scheme for treating Covid-19 sufferers is not being scrapped following his signing off on changes to the programme.
Mr Anutin said he formally approved the changes on Feb 18, which will go into effect on March 1.
He also sought to ease people’s fears the scheme would be abolished, saying people infected with the virus can still obtain treatment under the programme.
Under the UCEP scheme, patients can seek treatment at any medical facility for three days, after which they will be transferred to a hospital where their state welfare and/or health insurance scheme is registered.
However, the government recently removed Covid-19 from the list of conditions covered by UCEP, which means that from March 1, those who test positive for Covid-19 but do not require critical care will have to pay their own medical bills if they choose to seek treatment at private hospitals.
On Monday, Mr Anutin said a new scheme called Universal Coverage for Emergency Patients (UCEP) Plus is being launched, which will handle Covid-19 sufferers who require emergency treatment for moderate to severe symptoms.
The Public Health Minister added that in practice, there should be no glitches in providing treatment under the UCEP after March 1.
He said the changes were intended to streamline the scheme and bring about improved budget management while keeping up Covid-19 treatment standards.
“We have to make necessary adjustments [to the UCEP scheme] for the sake of giving fair and effective treatment while also considering budgetary factors,” he said.
Also on Monday, the National Health Security Office (NHSO), which runs the gold card universal health care programme, said most Covid-19 sufferers in the latest outbreak did not exhibit severe symptoms, despite rapidly rising caseloads.
The situation was generally less critical than in previous outbreaks, according to NHSO deputy secretary-general Yupadee Sirisinsuk.
Those with mild conditions receive home isolation care and the NHSO has a network of medical facilities to adequately provide medical services to sufferers in home quarantine.
“The idea of home isolation is not to leave sufferers to fend for themselves. We’ve got teams of medical and care workers to regularly follow up on their conditions,” she said.
Symptoms permitting, sufferers should avoid going to hospitals that are reserved for those who require more intensive treatment, according to Dr Yupadee.
The majority of sufferers with no or mild symptoms are young people who tend to develop a fever. Close monitoring is necessary for sufferers who are elderly or those with underlying illnesses.
Meanwhile, Mr Anutin said the Department of Thai Traditional and Alternative Medicine has asked the Public Health Ministry to approve the use of green chiretta (fah talai jone) for treatment of asymptomatic sufferers.
Green chiretta would provide a safer option than favipiravir, a medicine which may be too strong for sufferers with no symptoms, the Public Health Minister said.