Foreign nationals rack up $3m debt at DHB
The Southern District Health Board is using debt collectors to recover money owed by foreign nationals.
Figures released to Stuff under the Official Information Act showed the district health board collected $2.3 million in "non-resident debt" in the 2016-17 financial year.
That follows the experience of Kathryn Mair, who had lived in New Zealand since an infant, and who was billed $73,000 for cardiovascular and rheumatology surgery for the period she was deemed a non-resident.
Dunedin South MP Clare Curran had been helping Mair, who was now a New Zealand citizen but was still lumped with a large debt.
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"Our view is that that should be wiped ... it was completely unfair what happened to her."
Curran said the health board was under pressure to reduce their deficit, "and it sort of smacks of a heartless desperation".
Information released under the Official Information Act to Curran from the Southern DHB showed patients not eligible for Ministry of Health funding at the Southern DHB totalled $3.5 million for the 2016-17 financial year.
Southern DHB specialist services acting executive director Joy Farley told Stuff that debt collectors were used to recover money owed by local and overseas debtors.
Most foreign nationals were covered by health insurance but for those whose treatments were not covered, that debt was "referred to debt collection agencies".
All district health boards were required to provide urgent or acute care regardless of a person's eligibility for funded services or ability to pay.
"They will be informed that they will still be required to pay, however, treatment will not be withheld," Farley said.
District health boards had to endeavour to recover costs from patients identified as ineligible for publicly funded healthcare and "we have effective processes in place to identify and manage those patients who are ineligible for funded services".