When Florian Witulski returned from South Korea to Thailand, he self-quarantined and tried to get tested for Covid-19 as any responsible person would.
To his shock, several private hospitals would not test him at all while the testing kit at Samitivej Hospital cost $750 US.
He was not alone. Private hospitals across the country have been accused by the public of price gouging coronavirus tests.
Calls by Thai Enquirer to Samitivej, Bangkok Hospital, Bangkok Nursing Home Hospital, and Bumrungrad Hospital showed that tests ran between 18,000 baht to 22,000 baht.
Locals in Samui and Chiang Mai tell Thai Enquirer that testing at Bangkok Hospital Chiang Mai and Bangkok Hospital Samui costs around the same price.
There was also this chart that was tweeted out by Richard Barrow.
One can see that while regular public hospitals charge between 3,000 to 6,000 baht per test, private hospitals charge nearly double that rate.
Yet none of the private hospitals in the Barrow list charge the exorbitant fees that the premium hospitals are.
Yet while hospitals like Samitivej and Bumrungrad always charge a premium for their services, it doesn’t explain the nearly 400 per cent increase over their public counterparts.
The public has accused these luxury hospital groups of price gouging, of taking advantage of a bad situation to maximize profits.
But the truth, according to several well-placed sources, is actually much more worrying.
A leading doctor for infectious disease in one of the top hospitals in Thailand told Thai Enquirer, that even after charging a premium for the tests, if a patient was found to be positive they would not be admitted to the hospital but would instead be referred to a government hospital.
Another doctor told Thai Enquirer that this was likely a business decision. Many of the luxury hospital groups rely on medical tourism to turn a profit.
With incoming patients from abroad drying up due to the outbreak of coronavirus, the hospitals do not want to scare off their remaining patients by being known as a place with Covid-19 cases.
“If it were true, I would understand the decision. Many of these hospitals are suffering maybe 50 – 75 per cent decrease in overseas patients, if word gets out they have Covid-19 patients then that number could suffer even more,” said the doctor.
“Then people will be out of jobs and the hospitals will have to cut back.”
Calls to the public relations department of BDMS Group and Bumrungrad were not returned as of the time of writing.
No government regulations
So far the Ministry of Public Health and the Thai government have deemed it unnecessary to set a price cap on tests for coronavirus.
The MPH has mandated guidelines for getting tested as test-kits are expensive and limited in government hospitals, so only patients exhibiting clear symptoms are given tests for free.
But private hospitals are free to charge what they like.
Yet countries like Germany and South Korea show that extensive testing is one of the keys to fighting back against Covid-19.
South Korea has implemented programs and set price limits on tests by hospitals to ensure that its population can get tested as necessary.
As the outbreak continues to climb in Thailand, many healthcare officials have petitioned the government to enforce and make clear the rules regarding Covid-19 testing.
But a muddled response by the government so far to the outbreak; not only in regards to Covid-19 tests but on quarantine regulations, on tourist guidelines and visa regulations means that a cohesive response looks doubtful.