Achieving universal health coverage goals in Thailand: the vital role of strategic purchasing

Health Policy Plan. 2015 Nov;30(9):1152-61. doi: 10.1093/heapol/czu120. Epub 2014 Nov 5.


Strategic purchasing is one of the key policy instruments to achieve the universal health coverage (UHC) goals of improved and equitable access and financial risk protection. Given favourable outcomes of Universal Coverage Scheme (UCS), this study synthesized strategic purchasing experiences in the National Health Security Office (NHSO) responsible for the UCS in contributing to achieving UHC goals. The UCS applied the purchaser-provider split concept where NHSO, as a purchaser, is in a good position to enforce accountability by public and private providers to the UCS beneficiaries, through active purchasing. A comprehensive benefit package resulted in high level of financial risk protection as reflected by low incidence of catastrophic health spending and impoverished households. The NHSO contracted the District Health System (DHS) network, to provide outpatient, health promotion and disease prevention services to the whole district population, based on an annual age-adjusted capitation payment. In most cases, the DHS was the only provider in a district without competitors. Geographical monopoly hampered the NHSO to introduce a competitive contractual agreement, but a durable, mutually dependent relationship based on trust was gradually evolved, while accreditation is an important channel for quality improvement. Strategic purchasing services from DHS achieved a pro-poor utilization due to geographical proximity, where travel time and costs were minimal. Inpatient services paid by Diagnostic Related Group within a global budget ceiling, which is estimated based on unit costs, admission rates and admission profiles, contained cost effectively. To prevent potential under-provisions of the services, some high cost interventions were unbundled from closed end payment and paid on an agreed fee schedule. Executing monopsonistic purchasing power by NHSO brought down price of services given assured quality. Cost saving resulted in more patients served within a finite annual budget.

Keywords: Thailand; Universal health coverage; purchasing functions; universal coverage scheme.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Delivery of Health Care*
  • Financing, Government / economics*
  • Goals
  • Health Expenditures / statistics & numerical data*
  • Health Services / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Thailand
  • Universal Health Insurance / economics*