The Thai government has implemented universal coverage of health insurance since October 2001. Universal access to antiretroviral (ARV) drugs has also been included since October 2003. These two policies have greatly increased the demand for health services and human resources for health, particularly among public health care providers.
After the 1997 economic crisis, private health care providers, with the support of the government, embarked on new marketing strategies targeted at attracting foreign patients. Consequently, increasing numbers of foreign patients are visiting Thailand to seek medical care. In addition, the economic recovery since 2001 has greatly increased the demand for private health services among the Thai population.
The increasing demand and much higher financial incentives from urban private providers have attracted health personnel, particularly medical doctors, from rural public health care facilities. Responding to this increasing demand and internal brain drain, in mid-2004 the Thai government approved the increased production of medical doctors by 10678 in the following 15 years. Many additional financial incentives have also been applied. However, the immediate shortage of human resources needs to be addressed competently and urgently.
Equity in health care access under this situation of competing demands from dual track policies is a challenge to policy makers and analysts. This paper summarizes the situation and trends as well as the responses by the Thai government. Both supply and demand side responses are described, and some solutions to restore equity in health care access are proposed.
By CHA-AIM PACHANEE AND SUWIT WIBULPOLPRASERT