Demand for public health services in Hong Kong is becoming acute, but health authorities are failing to spot non-residents and charge them the higher fees they are supposed to pay, the Ombudsman says.
Alan Lai Nin, appointed ombudsman early last year, said early on that heavy demand on the city's affordable health care services was straining patient-care resources and weighing heavily on government finances, and he promised to investigate checks on patients' eligibility by the Hospital Authority and the Department of Health as a matter of 'wide public interest and concern'.
He has now reported that they have been failing to check the residential status of patients, resulting in more non-residents using services at the price subsidised by taxpayers.
A resident is charged only HK$45 per visit for general outpatient services, which costs a non-resident HK$215. The difference is bigger for inpatients: HK$100 per day compared with HK$3,300.
According to a six-day survey by the Hospital Authority and Immigration Department last December, 113 non-residents holding identity cards used general outpatient, specialist outpatient and inpatient services under the Hospital Authority. A total of 224,300 identity card holders used these services during the period.
Assuming all non-residents used general outpatient services, taxpayers spent at least HK$19,210 subsidising health services used by non-residents during the six days. A rough calculation shows more than HK$1 million of taxpayers' money could have been overspent in a year.
Holders of non-permanent identity cards should be told to present their travel documents to show they have not exceeded their stay, the Ombudsman said. 'Other departments are able to do it,' he said.
There is an urgent need for them to make a change as the number of non-residents keeping outdated identity cards has increased, from 140,000 in 2008 to 220,000 last July.
The Food and Health Bureau, which overseas the two authorities, accepted the recommendations by the Ombudsman, a bureau spokesman said. An inter-departmental group will explore possible measures, including electronic means in the long run.