Emergency-ward birth fees set to be doubled
Medical charges for mainland women giving birth in the emergency wards of Hong Kong's public hospitals are set to almost double, but there are doubts whether even that will be enough to curb the influx.
A proposal by Hospital Authority chief executive Dr Leung Pak-yin to raise the cost from HK$48,000 to HK$90,000 will go before the authority's board on Thursday.
Leung (pictured) said the measure, if passed, could deter mainland mothers without hospital bookings from rushing to emergency rooms seeking last-minute deliveries.
'The increased charge is aimed at reducing the risk to the non-local mothers and their babies from rushing to the accident and emergency departments for unsafe deliveries,' said Leung. 'This is not the only measure and can complement other policies proposed by the government.'
The proposal is another blow to mainland mothers looking to have their babies born in Hong Kong.
Chief executive-elect Leung Chun-ying recently announced a blanket 'zero' quota for their admission to private hospitals and said he could not guarantee mainland babies born in Hong Kong from next year would be granted right of abode.
Concerns have been raised about the increasing number of mothers-to-be who overstay without having pre-natal checks, then call an ambulance when about to go into labour.
Leung said the authority referred to private hospitals' charges when determining the proposed rise in maternity charges. But doctors and lawmakers questioned whether the increase was a big enough deterrent.
Dr Cheung Tak-hong, head of obstetrics and gynaecology at the public Prince of Wales Hospital in Sha Tin, said the price should be higher.
'HK$90,000 is like an average market price for private hospitals. It should be lifted further to make a real deterrent,' said Cheung, who is also spokesman for the Hong Kong Obstetrics Concern Group.
'We hope the next government can think of a few more measures to complement the increased charges to better control the influx.'
Health services lawmaker Dr Joseph Lee Kok-long expressed concern about the collection of fees.
'It will send a strong message to pregnant mainlanders against rushing to the emergency wards,' he said. 'But the public hospitals have to think whether the existing mechanism to ensure the mothers pay the fees is effective or not.'
Some HK$6.6 million of public hospitals' bad debt in 2010-11 was from non-local mothers not paying their bills, while the figure for the current year is around HK$4 million.
Meanwhile, the Department of Justice has scrutinised a private members' bill to restrict abode rights for babies of mainlanders. The bill, initiated by Economic Synergy lawmaker Jeffrey Lam Kin-fung, seeks to amend the Immigration Ordinance to state at that least one parent of a baby born in Hong Kong has to be a permanent resident for the child to be granted right of abode. Lam will have to seek the chief executive's approval on the bill's content. The proposed change would contradict a 2001 Court of Final Appeal ruling conferring right of abode to babies regardless of parents' residency.
The number of mainland mothers who gave birth in Hong Kong public hospital emergency wards last year