Workers seek better dental care deal under SSF

April 8, 20169:29 am379 views
Workers seek better dental care deal under SSF
Photo by Jiraporn Kuhakan

Labour advocates will today ask authorities to upgrade dental welfare for Social Security Fund (SSF) subscribers whose rights to dental treatment have been mainly capped by a much-criticised grant scheme worth just 600 baht a year.

Backed by a dentists’ network and more than 10,000 other supporters gathering through change.org which hosts web-based petitions, the labour representatives will petition ML Puntrik Smiti, chairman of the Social Security board, to accept their proposal.

Confederation of Thai Labour president Manas Kosol, among the petition backers, said while past calls for better dental welfare under the SSF have failed, the group wants to try again. Backers say that as the population ages, the need for properly funded dental care will grow more acute.

Many workers, especially low-income earners, are demanding reform in dental welfare, and would welcome positive news in time for Labour Day on May 1, he said.

While SSF subscribers are the only group required to have their salaries deducted monthly to support the fund, what they gain in return is disappointing, he said.

The dental treatment benefits they receive are “inferior” to those of state officials who enjoy grants under the Civil Servant Benefit scheme and senior citizens, not to mention other members of the public covered by the Universal Coverage scheme, known as the gold card scheme, who have most of their bills paid.

The ceiling of 600 baht, paid out as two instalments of 300 baht each for two treatments a year, covers only tooth extractions, fillings, tartar removal and removable dentures.

These benefits are the lowest, compared with gold-card holders who have almost all their dental care funded except for root canal treatments and dentures, and state officials who have all expenses paid by the government, provided they use dental services at state hospitals.

On top of those problems, SSF subscribers also have to pay in advance, Mr Manas said, insisting this payment method, along with the dental treatment benefits, must be reformed.

Given the poor level of coverage, only 6% of about 11 million SSF subscribers receive dental treatment, mostly fillings, according to a survey in 2014 by the Social Security Office.

The International Health Policy Programme (IHPP), a research agency under the Ministry of Public Health, found in a survey of 1.7 million patients who received dental care that 37% did not go through a process to ask for the 600-baht grants.

They cited reasons ranging from use of private dental care to a decision to pay with their own money.

Some, especially those on daily wages, said it was a waste of time to ask for the money because the process may cost them working time, according to the IHPP.

Mali Wanthana, a dentist at Lam Luk Ka Hospital in Pathum Thani, said she sympathises with her patients who might come to her for tooth extractions, but who, after examination, might also need fillings and tartar removal.

The question is whether 600 baht is enough, Dr Mali said, referring to her patients’ rights under the SSF, as they continue to pay contributions to the fund after retirement.

“Workers want dental welfare reform,” she said.

“If officials agree, a good start is to waive the requirement for payments in advance,” the dentist added.

Authorities are staying mum for now on whether they can satisfy the demands of SSF members though they said yesterday they are ready to listen.

The proposal needs to be considered carefully because an “increase in dental welfare may affect the fund”, ML Manas said.

Social Security Office secretary-general Kowit Sachavisad said his office needs three months to study the proposal.

“Even if it turns out the labourers’ call is not met, we need to give them a clear answer,” he said.

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