Foreign patients still owe Waikato thousands

ELTON SMALLMAN
Last updated 05:00 02/01/2014

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International patients still owe Waikato Hospitals $300,000 in unpaid bills after they racked up $2 million in medical fees in the past two years.

But DHB officials have balked at the suggestion that sick and injured foreigners be charged at the bedside.

Using portable payment machines in wards is an idea being touted in Britain to recoup up to $1 billion (£500m) from patients from outside the European Union who are said to be travelling to the country specifically for free treatment.

Waikato DHB media and communications director Mary Anne Gill said they were obliged to treat all foreign patients at the emergency department and while portable technology was available to them, it was not on the cards at this stage.

"The chip and pin machine is not something we have specifically looked at but it is certainly possible," she said. "We do have eftpos/credit card facilities installed in the Emergency Department to get payment there and then."

The cost of emergency department treatment ranges from $350 for non-urgent cases to $1760 for life threatening conditions and a day in the emergency department ward costs $2100.

Figures released by Waikato DHB under the Official Information Act showed 398 ineligible patients were treated in the 2011-12 financial year at a cost of $892,752 and 358 patients in 2012-13 at a cost of $1,132,824.

The 2012-13 figure was equivalent to 2008-09 levels which was just over $1m and jumped to almost $2m in 2009-10.

The amount outstanding to the end of September 2013 was $323,789.

Of that, the highest outstanding individual amount - $18,777 - was for an American citizen who needed treatment for a stroke, followed by $18,006 owed by an Indian national after being treated for heart failure, and $15,614 for a Fijian citizen treated for diabetes.

Citizens from Tonga, Saudi Arabia and South Africa rounded off the top 10 amounts owed for treatment ranging from sickle cell anaemia, cancer and giving birth via a caesarean section.

DHB chief financial officer Maureen Chrystall said eligibility of all patients was checked and information of the cost of treatment provided and they were billed and the debt followed up promptly.

An additional $496,812 from a separate set of patients had been chased up and agreements were in place to pay by regular instalment. Cook Islands, Niue or Tokelau residents are eligible for full care in New Zealand and Australian citizens are eligible if they intend to stay for two years otherwise they pay the casual rate for consultations.

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- Waikato Times

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