Estimate scheme a step forward in the effort to curb complaints over private hospitals

Although the plan carries no penalty for non-compliance, it least could smooth the way to a more effective public-private health care partnership

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 15 October, 2016, 2:21am
UPDATED : Saturday, 15 October, 2016, 2:21am

Private hospitals and insurers have been stumbling blocks in the government’s plans for a more effective public-private health care partnership to relieve the pressure on government hospitals. An agreement by all 11 of the city’s private hospitals to join a voluntary trial that would provide patients with estimates of their bills in advance of admission for 24 common surgical procedures is therefore a breakthrough of a kind that could smooth the way ahead.

The government hopes it will lead to the passage of legislation aimed at curbing common complaints about the private health care sector, such as overcharging, lack of quality control and a reluctance to deal with problems or medical blunders.

More transparency could also be positive for the government’s proposed voluntary health insurance scheme, which has been held up and watered down in difficult negotiations with insurers over coverage of high-risk patients and pre-existing illnesses.

Fee estimates under new scheme: charge patients less if difference is small, leader of Hong Kong’s private hospitals says

Patients’ rights activists are not convinced by the bill-estimate scheme because it is not legally binding and there are no penalties for non-compliance, but the secretary for food and health, Ko Wing-man, said patients would still benefit from knowing the price range so they could make informed choices and financial preparations.

Ko said the scheme has been rolled out before the legislation is submitted to Legco in the first half of next year, and Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying’s administration was confident of passing it before the end of its term in 2017.

The scheme’s success depends on cooperation between private doctors and hospitals in providing estimates, which can be affected by lengths of stay, room rates, duration of surgery and the use of drugs.

Patients’ rights activists have a point in suggesting a system that allows the public the right to review final charges that turn out to be much higher than estimates.