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HK Hospital Authority targets non-local defaulters
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From December 4, public hospitals will stop providing non-emergency treatment to people who do not have Hong Kong ID and who have not paid up their medical dues, the Hospital Authority (HA) announced yesterday.

Cheung Wai-lun, HA director (cluster services) said the new measure would be taken to better manage outstanding medical bills in public hospitals.

Under the measure, registration staff will be alerted by a computer system to patients with outstanding bills when they return for services.

If they do not have Hong Kong ID they will not be treated for non-emergency services and will get treatment for life-threatening conditions only.

In recent years, the number of non-locals using public medical services and the amount owed by them have been increasing.

According to HA figures, non-local patients' outstanding fees in public hospitals have almost doubled from HK$35.6 million in 2005-06 to HK$61.9 million in 2006-07.

Such figure among the locals has decreased from HK$8.2 million in 2005-06 to HK$7.9 million in 2006-07.

Tim Pang Hung-cheong, community organizer of Society for Community Organization said if the non-locals had nothing to do with Hong Kong, then the measure is acceptable.

However, he said that mainland mothers with Hong Kong husbands would be most affected.

Mainland mothers used to pay the same amount of obstetric service fees as local mothers and the amount of bad debt is not big, he added.

However, mainland mothers had to pay much more now, he said.

Since February mainland mothers were asked to pay HK$39,000 for obstetric service with booking, and those without booking were to pay HK$48,000.

Some mainland mothers had failed to pay the exorbitant fees, he said.

"The new HA measure will increase psychological and financial burdens on these families, many of whom have low income," he said.

"It is also unfair to the children of Hong Kong people," he said.

The amount owed by mainland mothers is high because of the adjusted fees for mainland mothers.

The number of mainland mothers who have not paid medical bills is not large, he said.

Medical sector legislator Kwok Ka-ki said the measure was reasonable. He also added that patients' emergency would be decided by the doctors.

For example, under the new measure doctors would not have to take care of outpatient services and non-emergent surgery.

He said everyone would be treated equally and he did not think it is directed against mainland mothers.

If non-local patients had financial difficulty, he suggested HA social workers to ask for their needs and follow up the case.

(China Daily HK Edition November 22, 2007)

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