Health board calls debt collectors in
Debt collectors have been called in to help recoup hospital bills from foreign patients not eligible for free healthcare.
One case was referred to collection firm Baycorp in February by the Auckland District Health Board for $157,000 care for a baby.
Chief financial officer Roger Jarrold says ineligible patients cost $16 million a year, although some pay up through collection efforts.
Cases lodged with Baycorp, which is used by the health board to collect debt, have a 10 to 15 percent success rate.
Mr Jarrold says the board is always improving systems to identify ineligible patients.
But anyone who arrives at Auckland hospital with an acute problem will be treated first and asked for payment later.
If money is not recouped, the board can dip into a $1.7m fund from the Health Ministry. Mr Jarrold says that’s a matter of “constant negotiation” with the ministry.
“Part of the issue is we are in the centre of Auckland.
“You get the likes of tourists staying in Auckland directed to the main city hospital.”
Refugees As Survivors chief executive Gary Poole says refugees are covered by the health system.
But he says asylum seekers, who land in New Zealand and claim refugee status, are not covered.
Mr Poole says if an asylum seeker becomes sick, they work with the health boards to arrange treatment.
But he understands there’s a limit to what health boards can do for asylum seekers and other migrants.
“We understand the DHBs’ problems. They can’t provide treatment for the whole world. As a taxpayer do you want the policy to be open door?”
Refugee and Migrant Service executive director Mary Dawson agrees it is a “thorny” issue for health boards and foreigners who can’t pay their medical bills.
“It’s a situation that can create a lot of pain and suffering for people. But a remedy is not clear,” she says.