The Devil Is in the Detail-Understanding Divergence between Intention and Implementation of Health Policy for Undocumented Migrants in Thailand

Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2019 Mar 20;16(6):1016. doi: 10.3390/ijerph16061016.


Migrants' access to healthcare has attracted attention from policy makers in Thailand for many years. The most relevant policies have been (i) the Health Insurance Card Scheme (HICS) and (ii) the One Stop Service (OSS) registration measure, targeting undocumented migrants from neighbouring countries. This study sought to examine gaps and dissonance between de jure policy intention and de facto implementation through qualitative methods. In-depth interviews with policy makers and local implementers and document reviews of migrant-related laws and regulations were undertaken. Framework analysis with inductive and deductive coding was undertaken. Ranong province was chosen as the study area as it had the largest proportion of migrants. Though the government required undocumented migrants to buy the insurance card and undertake nationality verification (NV) through the OSS, in reality a large number of migrants were left uninsured and the NV made limited progress. Unclear policy messages, bureaucratic hurdles, and inadequate inter-ministerial coordination were key challenges. Some frontline implementers adapted the policies to cope with their routine problems resulting in divergence from the initial policy objectives. The study highlighted that though Thailand has been recognized for its success in expanding insurance coverage to undocumented migrants, there were still unsolved operational challenges. To tackle these, in the short term the government should resolve policy ambiguities and promote inter-ministerial coordination. In the long-term the government should explore the feasibility of facilitating lawful cross-border travel and streamlining health system functions between Thailand and its neighbours.

Keywords: Thailand; access to healthcare; health insurance; health policy; migrants; policy implementation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Health Policy*
  • Health Services Accessibility
  • Humans
  • Intention
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Medically Uninsured / statistics & numerical data*
  • National Health Programs / statistics & numerical data*
  • Qualitative Research
  • Thailand
  • Undocumented Immigrants*