Using debt collectors to sue cancer patients for the cost of their care is ‘unethical’, says Fingal TD

A Labor TD from Fingal described the out-of-pocket expenses associated with cancer treatment in Ireland and ‘the cost of trying to stay alive’.

MP Duncan Smith was speaking during a motion tabled by the Social Democrats on the cost of cancer treatment in this country.

MP Smith thanked MP Róisín Shorthall and the Social Democrats for bringing forward an “excellent” motion, which “clearly crystallizes” the issues surrounding the cost of cancer care.

“When someone is diagnosed with cancer, their first thought should be their treatment, the impact on themselves, their family, loved ones and friends, and the road ahead. However, for many, one of the first thoughts is whether they can afford the treatment,” he said.

“The majority of people with cancer go through the public system. This is where these costs are incurred, not through elective treatment options.

“The Irish Cancer Society’s research is excellent and clear and paints a startling picture of the challenges these people and their families face.”

Deputy Smith pointed out that people facing cancer do not incur costs, with their pre-diagnosis income remaining static.

According to a survey by the Irish Cancer Society, the average drop in income for cancer patients is €1,500 per month, or €18,000 per year.

Not only do they face increased expenses, Deputy Minister Smith added, but also a dramatic decrease in income due to inability to work or other cancer-related reasons.

Having to pay for life-saving treatment and face other costs as their incomes are decimated is a ‘double whammy’ for people at their most vulnerable time, he said.

Deputy Smith said “the debt collection situation needs to change” and the government needs to be “unequivocal” about it.

The Labor MP said he had received an answer to a parliamentary question showing the amount spent on debt collectors year-on-year to 2020.

“From €439,000 in 2013, it rose to €532,000, €567,000 then €585,000. In 2017, it was €603,000. It then decreased to €573,000 but was €687,000 in 2019.

“Expenditure for the year to date was €386,000 in September 2020, which is the latest figure I have, but in 2020 it was on track to be well over €500,000.”

In total, some £4.3m of HSE money went to debt collectors, Deputy Smith said.

The HSE cites its National Financial Regulation NFR-25, which provides that if a patient has not paid a bill within 40 days of being issued, the patient will receive notice of referral from a debt collection agency within a week, according to Deputy Smith.

“Someone’s debt is sent to a debt collection agency six to seven weeks after an unpaid bill for cancer treatment or other health treatment.

“We have dealt with constituents with unpaid utility bills, Sky Sports subscriptions and the like that have taken longer to reach the debt collection stage.

“What is happening is immoral and must stop.”

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