‘In some cases Britons in Thailand are worse off than the poorest of Thais’ - British Honorary Consul
From Andrew Drummond, Bangkok September 11 2012
Is the British government condemning a large group of senior citizens to an early and excruciatingly painful death? Almost certainly it is playing a part, but health services and insurance companies are also to blame and among the worst hit are pensioners in Thailand.
The major part of the scandal is that the British government is refusing to pay cost of living increments to British pensioners living here even though they are clearly not a day to day drain on government resources.
That means a British pensioner who took his pension 10 years ago – is still getting the same pension. British pensioners living say in Europe get the full year on increments.The case has been fought at the European Court in the Hague so far without any success.
British pensions are also frozen in around 170 other countries including Australia, Canada and New Zealand but not strange enough, the United States or the Philippines.
This is despite the fact that the British Foreign Office itself categorises Bangkok as a 'hardship posting' and provides hardship allowances to Embassy staff. And for Bangkok the allowance kicks in at about half an expat Brit's government pension!
This despite the fact that severe restrictions are placed on consular staff stopping them from over-assisting British nationals
Even Britain’s outgoing Ambassador Asif Ahmad is aware of the problem and raised it through the Foreign & Commonwealth Office having had confrontations with groups of pensioners in Thailand.
Britain pulled the rug from under its senior citizens
The result is that many pensioners, many of whom had frittered money away on their Thai families, on land deals and failed farm projects, cannot even cover the rising costs of living in Thailand let alone the cost of expensive private medical care, even the cheapest package.
In the case of medical care many Britons are now in a worse off position than the poorest Thai – and they have been stung three times.
- Private health insurance premiums are going up 8% per cent to 9% year on provoked by increasing hospital charges.
- Some insurance companies are refusing to insure after the age of 70 – even long term customers.
- Last year pensioners had the rug pulled from under them by the British government which has refused health benefits to all who have been out of Thailand for a period of five years. Their fall back: - that if things got too bad they could go home for treatment was taken from them.
“The disaster has already begun and it’s going to get worse,” says Ben Svasti Thompson, who wears two hats, one as the British Honorary Consul in Chiang Mai, the other as the head of Lanna Care Net, an organisation which was set up to help elderly people in trouble in Thailand.
Ben Svasti Thomson is clearly not going to let restrictions stop him helping Brits in his spare time. But its a labour of love. In the worst case scenario more Britons will be committing suicide or dying painful deaths.
He has dealt with tragic cases including an elderly former Royal Marine Commando who was found collapsed in his house dying an extremely painful death of cancer without painkillers.
“Many people come out to Thailand well enough off. They pay all the right insurances, but after a while they neglect health insurance, because they seem fit enough. When the time comes when bad health kicks in they cannot afford it. .
“Worse still we have had cases of companies refusing to insure people over the age of 70, even though they have been long term customers. There is an ethical question here. But this is a high risk business and they are not humanitarian organisations,” he added.
"Its worse for foreigners because at least poor Thais have the 30 baht health care scheme".
His charity Lanna Care Net is trying to devise a no frills scheme even if it only covers 200 to 300,000 baht in medical services. That way, foreigners could at least get basic care in government hospitals and be able to pay their bills."
In fact foreigners who pay tax and insurance and are on a house registration are entitled to some benefits and one of the things Lanna Care Net will be doing is to clarify that avenue.
“Currently a tremendous burden is being put on the Thai government health services which have the only places in Thailand who practice the Hippocratic Oath.
“Plans have been considered to make it illegal for foreigners to come to Thailand without health insurance but imposing that law is more difficult than it seems because of course retaliation would be made against Thais abroad.
“What we try to do is mediate with hospitals that tend to put up the price when they see a foreigner because they assume he has medical cover.
“And as in the case of the Royal Marine who was helped out by the British Legion when we told them of the case, we try and find funding, though we do not have cash to give out ourselves.
“At the moment we are dealing with sick Britons all over the north. We are trying to get permission to visit a British woman who is paralysed and uncared for. Everything has to be done by protocol.
“We are also trying to support the McKean Rehabilitation Centre south of Chiang Mai which does a tremendous amount of work in this field but desperately needs cash to carry on its good work.”
Coincidentally I had a meeting this week with a post grad researcher from Loughborough University at ‘Cheap Charlie’s in Sukhumvit to talk about the plight of British pensioners in Thailand.
Kate, from Somerset, now living in Edinburgh, is being paid by the British government to study expatriate lifestyles. She chose Hua Hin on the Gulf of Thailand as the place to spend a large part of her time and one of her major concerns was Britons of pensionable age.
The British Embassy/FCO is doing its own study and obviously wants to see her results. The gist of our conversation is that she thought the situation was also alarming.
Many elderly British ex-pats have already become part of a prisoner society in Thailand, unable to go home, unable to meet the costs of staying.
Hua Hin, she thought, seemed to have been as good a place as any (although I feel she may find some more desperate cases elsewhere), and she found a mixed bag, some realists, some not.
Most preferred the life-style to back home, which is not surprising at the moment. The most alarming was the fact that many did not have health insurance. They expected, they said, their Thai family would look after them in the normal way.
Funnily enough in the course of her research she seemed to discover equally as much about who murdered who in Hua Hin.
How you can help?
I am returning to this subject later but I would be grateful to have some case histories to hand. Where are the real hardship cases? They may not come fully out in university research or government surverys. Do you know of any?
Are you part of this group and finding it difficult to support yourself? Please let me know.
Have you been refused health insurance and why?
How much do you need to live per month?
All replies treated in confidence – Send to firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact Lanna Care Net Call 0857098801 between 9 am and 5 pm or email email@example.com