$ 75,000 hospital bill canceled after woman left country without paying
Chinese national left the country without paying more than $ 75,000 in medical bills at Wairau hospital (file photo)
The Nelson Marlborough District Health Board was forced to set aside more than $ 75,000 after a foreign patient left the country without paying his bill.
Last week, the board agreed to write off the debt of $ 75,159, which was accumulated by a Chinese woman at Wairau Hospital in Blenheim on several occasions between November 2014 and August 2015.
While she had initially made a few small payments, there had been none for over a year.
Debt collectors had since informed DHB that the woman had left the country and her trail had cooled. She didn’t have insurance to cover the bill.
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Eric Sinclair, general manager of financial performance and facilities, told the board in a report that small unpaid debts are regularly written off without requiring board approval.
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“Usually these debts relate to overseas residents who have subsequently left the country without settling their debt.”
Sinclair said Thing that debts of this size were rare, the last comparable having been written off about six years ago.
“In a situation like this, it could mean that several bills have piled up towards the final amount owed. In other situations, a large hospital bill for someone who is not eligible for free New Zealand public health care could result from a significant procedure (e.g. major surgery) or a drug (for example, cancer drugs).
The latter debt had been pursued both by the DHB and then by a collection agency before the decision was made to cancel it, he said.
“The advice is that the debt be canceled because the woman can no longer be found.”
The debt could still be collected if it could be found in the future, he said.
New Zealand residents do not have debts because they were entitled to publicly funded health care, he said.
The debts of foreign visitors would be covered by insurance if people had it, but it is not a requirement for treatment.
Debts were usually transferred to a collection agency if they were not paid within 90 days, Sinclair said.
Jess Smaling, head of the Department of Health’s DHB Planning, Funding and Accountability group, said anyone in need of treatment would still receive it – and if they were not eligible for public funding, they would be invited to pay thereafter.
“If a person is too ill to make an informed decision about whether to continue treatment and a clinician determines that treatment is necessary to prevent death or significant disability, treatment should be provided. “
The ministry had mechanisms in place to help DHBs finance bad debts, she said.
“We recognize that bad debts can arise as some patients are unable to pay or cannot be traced. Public funding for DHBs recognizes that some DHBs incur bad debts at a relatively higher level than others, and funding is adjusted to compensate them for their above-average costs.
The ministry reassessed the bad debt trend every three years to target compensation payments to boards with the largest unpaid bills, she said.