Private hospitals may be forced to reveal fee details

The proposal is aimed at helping patients decide whether they can afford a particular treatment

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 17 July, 2014, 4:23am
UPDATED : Thursday, 17 July, 2014, 7:32am

Private hospitals would no longer be able to treat patient charges and statistics as business secrets under reforms proposed by the government.

They would also be required to maintain a database of their prices for common treatments so patients could budget for the payments, a government source said yesterday.

The Food and Health Bureau plan comes more than a year after the Audit Commission criticised most private hospitals for not giving patients enough price information before treatment and accused the government of being lax in regulating them.

The plan would require all private health care institutions to disclose most of their charges and would impose penalties on those that did not.

The source expected the data to include the prices of up to 60 common treatments.

Private patients have often complained about hidden charges and unclear bills.

"The private hospitals [would be] mandated to develop a database of key historical statistics on their actual bill sizes for common treatments under the new law," the source told the South China Morning Post. "There will be legal consequences and penalties for those violating the requirement."

A paper submitted to a Legislative Council panel yesterday said a government-appointed steering committee had suggested several key measures to improve private sector price transparency.

One would require private hospitals to disclose the annual number of discharges, average length of stay and fees for common treatments for the fifth and ninth out of every 10 patients treated.

The source said the government was open to discussion on the scope of treatments that would have to be disclosed but it expected that at least 20 common procedures would be covered.

"Currently, St Teresa's Hospital voluntarily posts online the data of some 20 common treatments, and the government expects other hospitals to be able to do at least the same," the source said.

"But if the scope is to be widened, we can take reference from Singapore, where billing data of more than 60 procedures are published regularly."

Private hospitals should also update the data regularly, such as every three months.

The South China Morning Post reported in January that the reform would also require private hospitals and doctors to tell patients the estimated cost of treatment in advance so they could make comparisons between different providers.

Yesterday, the source explained that this would be achieved by issuing a fee schedule for each hospital to list all payable items.

But exemptions would be given for emergency operations or unexpected complications, for which the hospital or doctor could list "market price".

A public consultation on the proposals will be launched in the second half of this year, with legislation expected in the 2015-16 Legislative Council year.