DHB keen to wipe off $1.8m bills

AMANDA PARKINSON
Last updated 05:00 22/03/2014

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The Southern District Health Board is looking at wiping off $1.8 million in unpaid medical bills - despite battling a $13m deficit.

Figures from the board show overseas visitors owe the District Health Board $2.5m in unpaid emergency and surgical services, an amount that has accumulated over the past five years.

District Health Board finance executive director Peter Beirne said the board was "doubtful" it would recover $1.3m and more than $500,000 had already been written off.

"It is likely that we will recover [about] $0.7m over time," he said.

Most of the debt is accrued from non-residents and relates to patients who have been treated but either have no means of paying, or in some cases leave New Zealand and are unable to be tracked down in their home country.

Mr Beirne said analysis of non-resident revenue from 2012-13 shows the largest accrued debt was from Dunedin Hospital.

Sixty-three per cent of the debt was attributed to Dunedin services, 27 per cent to Invercargill and 10 per cent to Lakes District, he said.

In a response to an Official Information Act request from The Southland Times, the health board said "debts of those ineligible for free health care were tracked centrally . . ." and therefore they could not provide specific dollar amounts owed to southern Emergency Departments.

But when asked what the average overseas patient paid for emergency or surgical services Mr Beirne said most patients were treated in the ED.

"The average [cost] is misleading, as a number are treated in ED and discharged and a number of others incur significant charges."

Overseas visitors who need to access free hospital services in New Zealand are encouraged to bring their passports with them when presenting at emergency departments.

However, that will not guarantee they are eligible for free health care.

The system relies on individual reciprocal arrangement between New Zealand and their country of citizenship, a visitors' immigration status and their travel insurance policy.

For example, many UK travellers do not realise the reciprocal agreement with New Zealand will cover them only for treatment deemed an emergency.

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