Patients who have delayed paying medical bills at public hospitals may be charged up to HK$10,000 of administrative fees from July.
Chief Secretary Rafael Hui Si-yan yesterday revealed the new measure in the Legislative Council, in response to the Public Accounts Committee's call on the government to strengthen collection of outstanding medical fees.
The authority came under fire last year as the Audit Commission criticised it for being too slow in collecting unpaid medical bills over the past five years, amounting to about HK$322 million, including HK$223 million owed by 36,624 non-locals. Under the proposal, both local residents and foreigners who fail to settle their bills within two months will be charged 5 per cent of the unsettled amount, or a maximum HK$1,000 as an administrative fee.
Those who failed to settle within three months, will be charged 10 per cent of the outstanding amount, up to a maximum of HK$10,000.
Details of the administrative charges will be gazetted in June.
Mr Hui pointed out the Hospital Authority had already enhanced its computer systems so that registration staff were alerted when patients with outstanding fees return for service. 'This allows the HA to promptly identify the frequent defaulters, and take timely debt recovery action. To ensure prompt implementation of the enhanced measures, the HA has increased the number of staff responsible for collecting outstanding fees. The HA will keep the manpower requirement of the fee collection team under review.'
To ensure priority was given to locals in utilising public health-care resources, Mr Hui said the authority would also cease to provide non-emergency medical treatment to non-local defaulters before they settle the outstanding payments.
The Legislative Council's health affairs panel chairman Joseph Lee Kok-long welcomed the new measures, but said the authority should come up with better ways to collect bad debts.