Mark Sainsbury: Stop letting visitors freeload off our health system

Healthcare iPad doctor
The chances of recovering healthcare debt from visitors is slim to none (File)

OPINION: What kind of country are we living in where we citizens have to fight for our rights and entitlements under ACC whereas overseas visitors can come here, use our hospitals and skip the country leaving behind millions of dollars in bills?

Between 2013 and 2016 ineligible patients racked up $160 million in debt. The chances of recovering it? Slim to zero.

There's no point setting the debt collectors on them, which will prove expensive if they've skipped the country.

Adding yet another levy to those arriving along with the calls for a National Parks levy and a toilet facility levy hardly seems palatable either.

So should visitors be compelled to have taken out medical insurance before coming here? Because if they haven't, unless they have deep pockets - and I suggest many tourists are the complete opposite - we will be paying the bill for their medical misadventure.

But maybe that's sending the wrong message - we would never deny someone medical treatment.

Also related to healthcare access, Sir Geoffrey Palmer - former Prime Minister and Law Commissioner - recently said an Otago University 10-year study into ACC shows the entity is a dismal picture of unfairness and lack of transparency.

In other words, Sir Geoffrey concluded ACC is going out of its way to prevent you getting any benefit from it, which is the exact opposite of what the scheme intended when Sir Owen Woodhouse conceived it in the 1970s.

It was supposed to be accessible, fair and supportive, easy to traverse and not based on formal claims or adversarial techniques. Instead the current system seems to regard us as feckless con artists who must be stopped.

So if you're having trouble accessing ACC maybe the key is to leave the country come back in as a visitor, avail yourself of everything you need at our country's hospitals then skip out, ignoring the bill.

Mark Sainsbury hosts Morning Talk from 9am-midday on RadioLIVE.

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