Thailand wants to charge all tourists for health insurance

Photo: Andy Bay
Photo: Andy Bay

What is dead may never die but rises again, at least when it comes to bad ideas.

A proposal to charge tourists – those economic burdens draining the coffers with their profligate spending – is back on the table again after it was raised by the tourism (and sports!) ministry to offset health care expenses and invest in facilities.

It’s an idea that’s been raised and dropped in different forms over the years, including rejected bids to require visitors to purchase insurance plans. And it seems yesterday’s announcement was another trial balloon with a failsafe six-month study period built in to allow it to be quietly abandoned down the road.

The prospect was raised again after the ministry was legally empowered to take additional regulatory measures Wednesday in an update to the law, according to Bangkok Post.

While the health-care related costs of foreign visitors is pinned at about THB300 million (US$9.4 million), that’s one-ten-thousandth (0.01 percent) of the THB3 trillion they are said to have brought into the economy last year, an economy already over-reliant on spending for growth.

And try telling travelers who’ve been charged on entry to help those facilities that they need to pay 10 times everyone else to enter them.

No figure was placed on how much the charge might amount to.

One laudable idea under discussion is putting caps on how many people can visit ecologically strained locales. That would be progress following the indefinite closure last year of iconic Andaman destination Maya Bay, which came only after it had been trampled to dust for years by daily hordes.

Thailand welcomed nearly 40 million visitors – over half its own population – last year; the powerful tourism industry lobby reflexively opposes any additional fees or levies placed on visitors.

Health officials earlier this month said they were finalizing a mandate that all older foreigners on retirement visas be required to own health insurance.

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