HK$34m fix for hospital fees loophole

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 05 January, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 05 January, 2011, 12:00am

A HK$34 million computer system will be developed to close a loophole that allows ineligible people to receive subsidised care at public hospitals - and which is estimated to cost the taxpayer HK$20 million a year.

This follows disclosure in an audit report that holders of non-permanent identity cards whose residency has expired are still able to use the cards at hospitals and pay local fees because their return is not required and they carry no expiry date.

The system, which will be ready by December 2012 at the earliest, will be able to check whether a holder's residency has expired, disqualifying them from subsidised medical care.

In July last year, the permitted stay of 220,000 of the city's 930,000 holders of non-permanent identity cards had expired. They included domestic helpers whose contracts had expired and foreign students who had finished their studies.

In a joint study with the Immigration Department in December 2009, the Hospital Authority found 110 out of 220,000 patients treated were not eligible. The authority estimated that some HK$20 million was lost annually by undercharging these patients.

The plan for a computer system was outlined in a document to the Legislative Council's health services panel yesterday. The system would be developed with a one-off grant of HK$34 million, and the annual operating cost would be about HK$6 million. In the early stage of development, another HK$6 million would be spent on temporary staff.

The government said the system would be able to determine the status of a non-permanent resident within seconds and the data collected would be used solely for this purpose.

The administration will apply for funding from Legco's Finance Committee later this month if it wins the health panel's support next week.

Hospital Authority policy allows subsidised fees for all holders of Hong Kong identity cards, permanent or non-permanent. An emergency room consultation costs an eligible patient HK$100 compared to HK$570 for others.