Health insurance helps ease financial burden for TB patients

December 14, 2022 - 08:28
Việt Nam is among 30 countries with the highest burden of multidrug-resistant tuberculosis in the world with more than 172,000 patients and 10,400 deaths from the disease per year, figures from a World Health Organisation report in 2020 revealed.
Elderly people come for tuberculosis screening at Đông Sơn health centre in Đông Hưng District in northern Thái Bình Province. VNA/VNS Photo Minh Quyết

HẢI DƯƠNG — Tiêu Thị Hương, a resident of the city of Hải Dương, had little time to enjoy escaping poverty when her husband contracted tuberculosis in 2019.

Thanks to early diagnosis and a strict treatment regimen, Hương’s husband recovered from the disease after six months of intensive treatment. However, the high cost of the treatment forced the family to take out new loans and pushed them back into poverty.

Hương, who became the only breadwinner of the family, was working hard to pay off the debts when her husband was diagnosed with tuberculosis for a second time in April, 2022.

“Being infected for a second time, my husband's health was severely weakened. I have to buy a lot of supplements and vitamins to keep him healthy and follow the treatment plan, not to mention daily nutritious meals,” she said.

This year’s cost of treatment is higher than that of 2019 due to his weak health condition and surging commodity prices. But the situation is not dire this time as the health insurance has covered all the bills.

“We are lucky as the hospital fees and medicines are covered by health insurance and provided free of charge,” she said.

After two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of people infected with tuberculosis has increased, especially in rural areas. Migrant workers and ethnic minorities are among the most vulnerable as they face high risks of falling back into poverty due to long and expensive treatment.

Although the public health insurance fund helps cover hospital fees, many are at risk of falling back into poverty as they can’t work due to weak health while having to pay for medicine. Some even don’t go to hospital for treatment, causing long-term health consequences.

La O Dắc, a Chăm ethnic man in Đất Bằng Commune in the central highland province of Gia Lai, was found with tuberculosis when a team of doctors came to give free health check-ups early this year.

The man couldn't help but worry about hospital fees, but felt secure knowing that his hospital fees would be covered by his health insurance card.

He has been under treatment for six months.

“Đất Bằng is an extremely difficult commune of Gia Lai Province. Local people mainly live by farming, growing cassava, so it’s very difficult for them to have long-term treatment without health insurance. The health insurance cards have eased a lot of financial burdens for them,” said Doctor Rơ Châm Lộc at the communal health centre.

Since this July, anti-tuberculosis medicines have been provided free of charge for tuberculosis patients by the Health Insurance Fund, marking an important milestone in ensuring financial support for the TB treatment program in Việt Nam.

“Sponsors are shifting from supporting patients by buying tuberculosis medicines to supporting them by buying health insurance cards. In the first few years, patients who do not have health insurance cards will receive support from local aid or local budget to buy health insurance cards. This will help ease worry about the patients’ financial burden,” said Nguyễn Việt Nhung, Director of the Central Lung Hospital and Director of the National tuberculosis programme.

A tuberculosis patient is under intensive treatment at the General Hospital in Đồng Văn District in the northern mountainous province of Hà Giang. VNA/VNS Photo Dương Ngọc

From now on, patients can have hospital fees and medicines paid for by health insurance. "Tuberculosis patients are mostly poor and unable to pay for their own treatment, so they should join health insurance, he said.

Việt Nam is among 30 countries with the highest burden of multidrug-resistant tuberculosis in the world with more than 172,000 patients and 10,400 deaths from the disease per year, figures from a World Health Organisation report in 2020 revealed.

Of these patients, 98 per cent are patients with drug-resistant tuberculosis, who usually face catastrophic costs, including the cost of tuberculosis diagnosis and treatment exceeding 20 per cent of their annual income.

70 per cent of patients are of working age and from poor and near-poor households.

Although anti-TB medicines are provided free of charge, the disease requires a long treatment period and creates many comorbidities, raising the treatment cost up to several hundred million đồng.

Kiều Thị Mai Hương, Health and Welfare Programme Manager under the Centre for Supporting Community Development Initiatives (SCDI), said the disease could be completely cured if patients adhere to the treatment regimen.

Currently, the cost of treatment is covered by health insurance. Therefore, it is necessary to have supportive policies to ensure that all patients have health insurance cards, according to Hương.

Châu Đương, Director of Đắk Lắk Province’s Lung Hospital, said the province's tuberculosis rate was still at 170 out of 100,000 people. There were many patients infected in the community who had not been detected and given treatment.

Currently, tuberculosis is still the leading cause of death among infectious diseases. There is a high risk of it spreading in the community if patients are not detected early and treated promptly.

Therefore, early detection and proactive tracing can save patients' lives and reduce the source of transmission in the community, rapidly reducing the financial and spiritual burden of tuberculosis for patients’ families and society.

“A scan and X-ray on patients’ chest to screen for tuberculosis cost about VNĐ2.5 million (US$106). Free testing and treatment bring great benefits to patients, especially those in difficult circumstances,” he said.

Phạm Thị Hải Hà, Deputy Director of the Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs’ Department of Social Protection, said along with financial support in treatment, the ministry had supported patients with chronic tuberculosis from poor and near-poor households to have jobs to ensure their livelihood. — VNS