Foreigners' unpaid medical debts revealed

More than $35 million in unpaid debts by foreigners treated for healthcare in Auckland has been written off in the past three years.

Figures obtained under the Official Information Act (OIA) show that all up, more than $90 million was invoiced to patients not eligible for funding across Auckland, Waitemata and Counties Manukau district health boards. Up to 40 percent of that could not be recovered.

According to the Ministry of Health eligibility is largely based on immigration status, and it is the responsibility of providers to check whether people qualify for free or subsidised health or disability services.    

National's health spokesperson Michael Woodhouse thinks it's unfair that taxpayers have to pick up the tab, and fears hospitals aren't doing enough to ensure people can pay.

"The taxpayer invests an extraordinary amount of money in the public health service. It's becoming increasingly strained, and I think their expectation will be that those resources are expended on people who are eligible for publicly funded services, not those who are coming from overseas."

He claims to also have anecdotal evidence to suggest not all ineligible patients are actually invoiced.

"There is a sense of squeamishness about asking people for payment details, but the reality is somebody is going to have to pay for the services that are provided." 

Acting Health Minister Julie Anne Genter and the DHBs declined to comment. But in Counties Manukau's OIA response, it stated significant resource goes into determining a patient's eligibility status, and then seeking payment.

It has written off - or referred to debt collection - at least $5 million each year for the past five financial years.  

The most expensive treatment for a single ineligible patient in the 2018/2019 year was $370,000, through Auckland DHB.


Contact Newshub with your story tips: