Tourists to Cover Hospital Bills
The Sydney Morning Herald
Thailand is considering slapping a 500-baht ($16.60) entry fee on tourists to help cover foreigners' unpaid medical bills, officials say.
"The policy is the result of foreign tourists who have accidents or fall sick in Thailand and seek treatment at our hospitals but then can't pay their bills," the Health Ministry's deputy permanent secretary, Charnvit Phrathep, said.
The unpaid hospital bills of foreign tourists cost the state about 700 million baht a year, the ministry said.
"We try to send the bills on to the respective embassies but they always say they have no budgets," Mr. Charnvit said. "We will be the first country to implement such a policy, but Britain and Cambodia are considering something similar."
The Interior Ministry, Health Ministry and Tourism Ministry had agreed on the policy, Health Minister Pradit Sintavanarong told the Bangkok Post.
The ministries would try to draw up a regulation that would not require new legislation and implement it from January 1.
The new policy might help prevent "trash" tourists from entering the country, Mr. Pradit was quoted as saying.
The 500-baht fee would apply to air arrivals. Tourists entering by land would pay a fee of 30 baht for each day spent in the country.
Mr. Charnvit acknowledged that most Western tourists had health insurance but said they would still have to pay and would benefit from the policy.
"In the longer term it will add value to the tourism industry," he said. "We think most foreigners can afford 500 baht and if they come here and have a heart attack they will be happy to know they can get treatment at the nearest hospital with no questions asked."
But representatives of the tourism sector were less enthusiastic and said the fee could deter tourists.
Pacific Asia Travel Association chairman Martin Craig said the fee would drive travelers elsewhere. "It's a sledgehammer to crack a nut and it doesn't smell right to me."
A large number of Australian arrivals, now approaching one million a year, would have to pay the fee.
Thai Hotels Association adviser Samphan Panphat said most foreigners who came to Thailand on tours "already have medical insurance so this fee would be redundant. And there are questions about the transparency of the scheme. If Thailand does something strange like this, there could be a long-term negative impact on the whole industry."
Thailand attracted 22 million tourists last year, earning the country $US32 billion ($33 billion) in foreign exchange revenues.
READ FULL SOURCE ARTICLE: 10/22/2013
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