Foreign patients leave costly bills

By, Tessa Johnstone

An overseas visitor who has cost Wairarapa Hospital more than $63,000 was a blip in an otherwise smooth year, says Wairarapa District Health Board chief executive Tracey Adamson.

Figures obtained by the Wairarapa Times-Age showed 29 foreign patients were treated at the hospital's emergency department in 2011-12 financial year, costing a total of $77,151.

Non-residents and non-citizens are not eligible for funding, so in those cases the board charges for services.

Nearly $72,000 of last year's foreign-patient costs have been left unpaid, though more than $63,714 of that figure is attributed to one patient.

The patient had a stroke and required a variety of medical care, including surgery, speech therapy and rehabilitation.

The costs to the other 28 patients ranged from $194 to $1677, and they went to the emergency department (ED) with everything from a rash to heart palpitations.

"People don't go to ED voluntarily," said Ms Adamson. "They go because they think they are really sick and I certainly wouldn't say they are rorting the system." Ms Adamson said patients were asked about their resident status at the emergency department, and if they were ineligible for DHB-funded treatment they were informed about the costs and asked if they hade medical insurance.

"We have a responsibility to treat them in acute situations but we make it very clear that there are going to be costs."

New Zealand has reciprocal health agreements with Australia and the United Kingdom, which means certain services - not elective surgery - are funded in the same way as for a national of the country they are visiting.

Ms Adamson said cost recovery from foreign patients was not a major issue for the Wairarapa board, particularly in comparison with bigger, more urban regions such as Auckland.


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