As most PPT readers know, General Prayuth Chan-ocha bears considerable responsibility for the murder of protesters by his soldiers in April and May 2010. Because of elite agreements and the impunity long enjoyed by murderous soldiers, he is unlikely to ever face a court for his crimes.
There are other ways to kill people that do not involve the direct use of military weapons. At the Bangkok Post Prayuth states that the “universal healthcare scheme” is nothing more than a “costly populist” policy which “helped deposed prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra win the 2001 election.”
Prayuth is correct that the the scheme was popular with electors. At the same time, Thaksin’s Thai Rak Thai Party had widespread support in that election campaign, including from the royalist elite, largely due to the failures of the Democrat Party-led government that was reviled, not least for its implementation of IMF programs that destroyed swathes of Thai businesses and failed to provide meaningful safety nets for average people.
The went further, stating that “Thailand is not financially ready for such a multi-billion-baht health insurance project.” He added that the scheme will “bankrupt a lot of hospitals in the next few years…”. And he then declared: “The universal healthcare scheme is a populist project. Though people are benefiting from it, is Thailand ready for it? Why aren’t 190 other countries doing it? Only a few countries have done it…”.
Prayuth reportedly stated that “he would not abolish the scheme, but would seek ways of increasing funding.” This is code for winding back the universalism of the scheme. As Sureerat Trimakka, coordinator for the People’s Health System Movement stated: “This government [he means the junta] is making the national health system a scapegoat.”
We have no doubt that Prayuth hates the program as it is representative of the Thaksin revolution and is still a basis of political support for Thaksin and his parties. Prayuth’s royalist supporters loathe the scheme and want to be rid of it as a way of wiping out the memory of Thaksin.
This is not the first time the royalists have attacked the scheme since the military coup. Within weeks of that coup, the first thrust was made. The MOPH leadership, dominated by anti-Thaksin royalists, is wanting to raise “co-payments.” Steep co-payments will chase patients back to private clinics where MOPH doctors moonlight and make enough money to keep their Mercedes cars on the road. Uprooting the Thaksin regime-cum-revolution will be profitable for them.
PPT has previously mentioned independent assessments of the success of the program. And we have posted on a short paper at East Asia Forum that assesses some of the post-coup politicking over the scheme.
Prior to 30 Baht scheme, the first linked report states that in “poorer provinces had significantly higher infant mortality rates than richer provinces. After 30 Baht, this correlation evaporates to zero. The results suggest that increased access to healthcare among the poor can significantly reduce their infant mortality rates.”
If Prayuth changes the scheme, he will be personally responsible for the deaths of infants as that mortality rate climbs again. He will also be responsible for the deaths of the aged and poor patients who will no longer be able to afford health care.
This responsibility for increased deaths will be far in excess of the deaths caused by military weapons in 2010.