Transparency on hospital charges is just part of big health-sector overhaul

Government sources say billing rules will tie in with insurance reforms to encourage patients to go private and ease burden on public sector

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 17 July, 2014, 4:23am
UPDATED : Thursday, 17 July, 2014, 4:23am

A move to force private hospitals to be more transparent on charges is just part of a drive to radically reform the medical sector and encourage patients to go private, government sources say.

The transparency drive, under which private hospitals will have to release statistics and standard pricing for common operations, was revealed yesterday. It will tie in closely with changes to the health insurance market, including the introduction of minimum requirements for insurance policies.

A source from the Food and Health Bureau said making insurance more attractive was unlikely to work unless patients could be sure payouts would cover their hospital bills.

"This is why the government will work on a basket of changes together," the source said, adding that one reason patients chose public hospitals was "unclear and hidden charges" in the private sector. "The government intends to correct that."

Government statistics show that some 90 per cent of patients use public hospitals, despite the fact that 60 per cent of doctors work in the private sector. Those in the industry gave a cautious welcome to the plan.

Medical sector lawmaker Dr Leung Ka-lau said the idea was good, but could prove difficult to implement if the law was inflexible. He cited the example of a colonoscopy, where patients may pay more if cancerous lesions are removed during the procedure.

Dr Raymond Liang Hin-suen, assistant medical superintendent at the Hong Kong Sanatorium and Hospital in Happy Valley, said much would depend on how detailed the charge list was to be.

The source said lawmakers would be asked to approve three health reforms: on insurance, private hospitals and a third on the use of private premises for high-risk medical procedures.

Asked whether the government had a back-up plan should lawmakers reject the changes, the source said it could only "be better prepared for overwhelming public demand". It would have to spend more on the Hospital Authority, and patients could expect longer waits.

Government spending on the Hospital Authority was HK$44.4 billion in the last financial year, from HK$27.2 billion in 2006/07.