In announcing the new policy – which has yet to be brought into effect – Dr Natthawut Prasertsiripong, Chief of the Ministry of Public Health Department of Health Service Support, noted that “foreigners who are in their elder years staying on this type of visa have more health issues than other foreigners staying on other types of visas.”
That’s not rocket science. Older people anywhere have more health issues than younger folk, but Dr Nutthawut also plainly pointed out that the government is looking to unload the burden of footing the bill for medical treatment left unpaid by senior expats who didn’t have the money to pay them.
No one is going to argue with any government wanting to rein in that bill, although recent figures announced on this issue have been very unclear exactly which types of tourists have left how much in unpaid medical bills. To that end, the Thai government has already taken better steps to provide at least basic insurance coverage for tourists entering the country. Now they’re trying to zero out any other credits in their ledger.
Under the new policy, the insurance coverage to be required for retirement visas must provide up to B40,000 coverage for outpatient treatment and up to B400,000 for inpatient treatment. To be fair, that’s not much, but that part is not the problem.
Dr Natthawut got much closer to the point when he admitted that consideration is being made for foreigners whose health risks are considered by private insurance companies as too high to offer coverage. That’s the age bracket we are talking about. Insurance policy prices skyrocket as applicants enter their later years. The whole idea of an insurance policy is to receive money in the hope that the money does not have to be paid back out. It’s a business, and older folk are just more likely to draw a claim due to health issues.
That’s why Dr Natthawut also pointed out, “The relevant authorities might consider requiring them to have higher deposits in bank accounts so as to make sure that they have enough to live on during their stay in the Kingdom of Thailand.”
And here’s the issue. These are the same foreigners that Thailand invited by offering so-called retirement visas so that people could spend their golden years – and their money – in Thailand without having to work. The very nature of the visas offered targeted these people. And now it seems that the message is, “You’re welcome to stay while you can spend your money, but if you get too ill you’d better go home.” That’s not exactly a well-thought-out strategy when inviting older people to come. Older people tend to have more life experience and see through such paper-thin intents.
Regardless, at this stage we can be grateful that the policy is not yet in force and that consideration is still being given in how to accommodate elder guests already staying in the country.
There are some other options on the table, such as reciprocal arrangements with foreign governments to provide medical care for their citizens while in Thailand, like those used across the EU and through independent arrangements such as that between Australia and Sweden. Let’s hope they use them.
After all, this is an entire form of long-stay tourism all of its own, with benefits to be gained by guests and hosts if managed well.