New Hong Kong private hospital touting fixed fees will charge long-term sick an extra 20 per cent

Lawmaker says packages are too expensive to lure patients from overstretched public sector

PUBLISHED : Monday, 13 February, 2017, 9:20pm
UPDATED : Monday, 13 February, 2017, 10:44pm

The new private Gleneagles Hospital in Wong Chuk Hang will charge patients with long-term illnesses an extra 20 per cent on top of fixed rate packages for 50 common surgical procedures, the operators disclosed on Monday.

But the 500-bed hospital, which is partnering with infrastructure and services conglomerate NWS Holdings and the University of Hong Kong, said the types of procedure offered at all-inclusive standard rates would be further expanded to 150, despite a government recommendation that private hospitals need offer only at least 24 procedures under a voluntary scheme launched in October to improve fee transparency.

Price transparency was one of the major attractions of Gleneagles, interim chief executive officer Dr Kelvin Loh said. It will face keen competition in future from two more new private hospitals, in Sha Tin and Clear Water Bay.

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A lawmaker felt the packages would still be too costly for many patients, but Loh said: “We expect there will be good demand. The all-inclusive package price is a special and new concept in Hong Kong. It will allow patients peace of mind as they need not worry about uncertain fees.”

Price disputes have often flared at private hospitals in the past, with patients claiming they had not been informed of all potential charges, making it hard for them to budget.

All 11 private hospitals signed up for the voluntary scheme to provide estimates in the hope of increasing price transparency and luring more patients from the overstretched public health system.

Gleneagles, which opens next month, promised to take a leading role in implementing fixed prices when it submitted its bid to the government during the tender process.

It was revealed on Monday that there would be a total of 50 packages, with the cheapest at HK$13,180 for a gastrointestinal endoscopy. A colonoscopy will cost HK$26,527 and a cataract procedure is priced at HK$34,229.

But patients deemed to be at medium risk from undergoing the surgical procedures, such as those suffering from chronic illness or obesity, will have to pay 20 per cent more on top.

Dr Alexander Chiu, chief operating officer, expected about half of the patients to be classified as medium risk. High-risk patients, such as those with cancer, would not be eligible for a package.

“It is reasonable to charge higher risk patients an extra fee, as it means other general patients will not have to bear their cost and can enjoy a cheaper rate,” Chiu said.

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Many of the charges are comparable with those in the private Union Hospital in Tai Wai, the front runner in implementing the fixed fees, the Post found. But they are generally cheaper than the Hong Kong Sanatorium and Hospital in Happy Valley, which caters to wealthy patients.

Civic Party lawmaker Dr Kwok Ka-ki said the charges were too high and it might not ease the burden on the public sector if patients could not afford to go private.

“As required by the government, the Gleneagles has fulfilled its promised to provide package fees, but it was never asked to deliver them at reasonable prices,” Kwok said.

According to Gleneagles, the packages cover areas such as doctors’ fees, room charges, nursing care, medication, as well as meals and drinks. It also covers the cost to treat potential complications, as long as intensive care is not required.

Dr Fung Hong, chief executive of Chinese University’s private teaching hospital in Sha Tin, due to open in 2020, said he was not worried about the competition.

“The market is always changing, as are the needs of patients” Fung said. “By the time the hospital is ready, we will offer the market something new and what is most in need at the time.”