Hospital debt must be addressed

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University Hospital Galway is owed over €25 million euro in patient debt and Galway East TD Paul Connaughton this week said that the issue of consultants failing to sign off on private insurance claims must be addressed in hospitals across the country as it is taking consultants in state hospitals an average of over two months to sign off on claims relating to private insurers.

The issue was raised at this week’s meeting of the Public Accounts Committee where committee members reviewed the accounts of the HSE. Speaking after the meeting Deputy Connaughton said, ‘Irish hospitals are owed a total of €290 million by health insurers, with €172 million of this relating to statutory hospitals and the remainder to voluntary hospitals.

‘HSE accounts showed that the delay in consultants signing off on claims varied greatly from hospital to hospital, from a low of 15 days to a high of 163 days in December 2014. The vast majority of consultants sign off on claims in a timely manner, but where there are delays, it can create major problems for the accounts of our public hospitals.

‘UHG is a case in point. In terms of the average age of in-patient debt, it is the ninth worst performer in the country, but when one considers that the eight worst performers have between them a combined total of €33.8 million in in-patient debt whereas UHG alone has €25.5 million in debt and the average age of this debt in the Galway Hospital is two and a half months, we begin to understand the pressure that is being put on hospital finances. Accumulated patient debt at Portiuncula Hospital in Ballinasloe is €3.9 million.

‘Private in-patient charges make up almost three quarters of patient income in our hospitals, so any delay to that process impinges on the ability of the hospital to function properly.

‘There are a number of reasons for the delays in consultants signing off on claims. In some cases the consultant is responsible for the delay and problems appear to exist in relation to 50 out of the country’s 2,200 consultants who are constantly late in signing off on claims. There appears to be a reluctance on the part of hospitals to take robust action in relation to these consultants but it should also be noted that recent years have seen a huge increase in the percentage of claims being queried by insurance companies and they are frequently seeking detailed medical notes on patients before signing off on claims, so many claims are presented to consultants for a second time after insurers seek more detailed information.

‘The length of time that it is taking hospitals to recoup money from private insurers is worrying. It is placing great strain on hospital finances. Efforts have been made to streamline the system in recent years, but where problems persist in terms of consultants being late in signing off on claims, the hospitals must take action.’