Prachatai’s Person of the Year: People’s Health System Movement

This year, Prachatai recognises the People’s Health System Movement as its Person of the Year, for its relentless efforts to protect Thailand’s universal healthcare scheme from the junta’s threats.

Who is the People’s Health System Movement (PHSM)?

The PHSM emerged almost two decades ago under the leadership of Dr. Sanguan Nitayarumphong. Back then, the government provided free health services only to those living under the poverty line (a ‘mercy-based’ model). 
Under Thaksin Shinawatra's government, the PHSM worked with elected politicians to establish universal health care in Thailand in 2001. The scheme — usually called the “Gold Card” scheme — entitled all Thai people, regardless of their social or economic status, to universal healthcare at a rate of 30 baht per treatment. 
Although the policy allowed many Thai people to access life-saving medical treatment for a token fee, not everyone has embraced the scheme. Since the policy was initiated by the Thaksin administration, Thaksin’s political opponents have attacked universal healthcare as a populist policy that will create excessive financial burdens for the Ministry of Public Health. 
Some high-level bureaucrats also opposed the policy because the power to allocate budgets and resources was decentralised. 
The movement to eliminate universal health care subsequently emerged and grew stronger under the junta regime.
Throughout 2017, the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) made various efforts to put an end to the Gold Card scheme and drive the healthcare system back to a mercy-based model. The junta has proposed amending the National Health Security Act to introduce co-payments, meaning that patients would have to assist in paying for treatment.
In June 2017, the PHSM called on the junta to terminate the amendment to the National Health Security Act.
Their campaigns included staging protests, submitting petitions, launching statements, educating the public through public seminars and participating in public hearings held by the junta.
In June, reports emerged that regional public hearings for the amendment were cancelled due to boycotts by the PHSM network.
Although numerous members of the PHSM have been prosecuted and intimidated for campaigning against the junta, their efforts to protect Thailand’s universal health care remain strong.
PHSM protesting at a public forum on the amendment of the 2002 National Health Security Act in Bangkok on 18 June 2017