Concern over €5 rise in hospital charge

 

A controversial inpatient charge for people attending hospitals for treatment is to be increased by €5 to €80 a day, it has emerged.

The measure, designed to raise additional money for cash-strapped hospitals, will raise €5 million when it is introduced next year, Minister for Health James Reilly has told Fianna Fáil spokesman Billy Kelleher in answer to a parliamentary question.

The move coincides with controversy over a new “get-tough” policy by some hospitals in seeking payment of the charge from patients, including those attending for chemotherapy.

The Irish Cancer Society yesterday expressed concern that patients in treatment for cancer, even those waiting for a medical card, are being asked to pay the inpatient charge when attending for chemotherapy treatment.

Debt collectors

It says some patients have received letters from debt collection agencies for payment for hospital charges and chemotherapy treatment. “We are hearing an increased anxiety from our callers about the cost of having cancer.

“A growing number of cancer patients are simply unable to manage the extra cost because they are sick,” said Kathleen O’Meara, the charity’s head of advocacy and communications.

The society was concerned that the employment of debt collection agencies to chase non-payment of bills, such as hospital admittance charges, could have additional “psychosocial effects” on patients.

The charity declined to identify which hospitals were actively chasing patients for payment of the charge but said there was a marked increase in calls to its helpline on the issue.

Inpatient charges have been levied on patients who do not have medical cards or private health insurance since 1997. The HSE obliges all hospitals to impose the charge on all inpatients, subject to a maximum of €750 in a year.

The patients are usually invoiced after the patient’s stay in hospital, and appeals procedures apply in hardship cases.

The HSE says the charge has been in place for some time and no new charge is involved. It says it has a statutory obligation to impose the charge and to recover the money owed to hospitals.

Cancer patients are increasingly struggling to pay for necessities such as heat and travel expenses, according to the society. Applications to the charity’s financial aid scheme have increased by 36 per cent in the last three years, it said, with assistance now exceeding €1 million a year. Queries about costs such as heating and travel are now the third most frequent type of call to the society’s helpline.

Case study I

Advanced cancer and rising mortgage costs

Gary is 52, married, with four children in school. His wife works part time and they have a "significant" mortgage.

Having worked in construction for 20 years, he had been unemployed for a year as the recession took a heavy toll on the sector.

Gary was diagnosed with advanced cancer when he attended a medical for a job abroad. He had been offered intensive chemotherapy and radiotherapy in the hope of controlling the disease.

Gary has a medical card but has had difficulty accessing social welfare or health board payments.

His mortgage repayments have increased, but his wife needs to take more time off work.

As a result, he had additional childcare costs, while his travel expenses are significant.

Case study II

Disqualified from extra welfare payments

"Sophie" is 38 and married with a four-year-old son. She had been living with advanced cancer for two years, which has progressed despite intensive treatment.

Her husband works full time to cover the expense of two mortgages and struggles to get time off work.

Her hospital appointments and inpatient stays are increasing and she is less able to manage daily living at home.

She had experienced difficulty in accessing home help supports and in paying for childcare.

Her sick pay from work and her husband's wages mean the couple are disqualified from additional welfare payments.