20 Jan 2011

Foreign patients costly for hospitals

3:12 pm on 20 January 2011

Foreign patients are costing district health boards millions of dollars each year. Their unpaid medical bills being written off as bad debt.

The Ministry of Health says foreign patient debt has been a problem for several years. More than $13 million in outstanding debt was accumulated in 2010.

District health boards billed non-residents $33 million last year, however $13 million remains unpaid and $8 million has been written off.

Auckland District Health Board has the worst record, having written off $3.3 million in debt last year.

It says most of the bad debt is from accident and emergency patients, where the policy is to treat the patient first and then ask questions.

The ministry says it is working on implementing a database system allowing immigration status files to be shared by DHBs, which should reduce the debt.