HSE-run hospitals have spent nearly €1million hiring debt collectors to hunt down patients over outstanding debt in the two toughest years of the Covid-19 pandemic, new figures show.
As the country battled the pandemic in 2020 and 2021, with hospitals suffering severe overcrowding and patients often enduring grueling waits on trolleys, hospitals hired collection agencies to track unpaid inpatient fees and the €100 emergency room fee.
Figures show hospitals spent €568,074 in 2020 and €362,964 up to October last year.
Cork University Hospital spent the highest amount – €99,784 in 2020 and €86,194 in the first 10 months of last year – according to information provided to Aontu leader Peadar Tóibín.
It comes as Health Secretary Stephen Donnelly is under pressure to deliver on his promise to increase the inpatient fee from €80 a day to a maximum of €800 a year and scrap some outpatient fees in next month’s budget.
This would mean a loss of up to 30 million euros or more per year for the HSE, which would have to be reimbursed by the Treasury.
However, it would take some of the financial burden of illness off the shoulders of thousands of patients without a health card or full private health insurance.
The Department of Health said yesterday it could not comment on “matters related to the assessment process while it is ongoing”.
Figures show that University Hospital Galway spent €25,233 on collection agencies in 2020 and €4,451 up until October last year.
Another hospital with severely overcrowded emergency departments, University Hospital Limerick, paid €24,197 to collection agencies in 2020 and €10,162 in the first nine months of last year to chase patients over unpaid bills.
Other big donors included Dublin’s Connolly Hospital, which had to shell out €32,094 in collection fees in 2020 and another €38,987 last year.
University Hospital Waterford, Tullamore Hospital, Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda, Mayo University Hospital and Mullingar Hospital were also among the hospitals that paid significant sums to debt collectors.
Brian Dunne, HSE general manager for acute surgeries, said the HSE has a legal obligation to collect and collect these fees and hospitals have the discretion to implement payment plans if necessary.
“Hospitals are required under HSE National Financial Regulation NFR25 to refer unpaid debts to a collection agency after a period of time from the date of billing,” he said.
“Collection will continue to be managed at the local hospital level.
“If a patient is struggling to pay a hospital bill, the hospital and the patient can agree on an installment plan.
“We would advise patients to contact their hospital directly to discuss this personally.”
Mr Dunne said hospital groups said standard practice for collections is to “remind patients of outstanding debts before referring them to a collection agency.
“The amount and frequency of these reminders varies between hospital groups and individual hospitals, but generally collection agencies are not contacted until the claim in question has been outstanding for at least six weeks and no communication has been received from the patient, or if no payment has been made to the plan between the patient and agreed with the hospital.”
Hospital fees can add to the financial stress of an illness and add to hidden costs such as travel, accommodation, meals, loss of income from lost work and also hospital parking fees. The cost of living crisis will exacerbate this.
https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/health/hospitals-spent-1m-on-debt-collectors-to-chase-patients-as-covid-19-hit-41930056.html Hospitals spent €1million on debt collectors to hunt down patients as Covid-19 hit