New hospital charges planned
The Department of Health has proposed that public hospitals introduce new charges for certain services that are currently free, as a means of boosting their income.
It also says action will have to be taken to ensure that private patients do not get preferential access over public patients to beds in public hospitals.
A recent Department of Health pre-Budget submission to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform said the HSE was currently costing the introduction of new charges for patients treated in medical assessment and clinical decision units.
These are currently classified as emergency treatment units and are not subject to hospital charges.
In addition, the report proposes that hospitals also in future should charge for what are known as 'side room' procedures.
These are day care procedures where a bed may not be occupied due to improvements in medical technology and expertise.
According to the report, charges do not currently apply in these cases as technically, a bed has not been used.
While medical card patients would not be subject to these new charges, they would be levied on patients with private insurance, although insurance companies would have to decide whether to provide cover for them.
Health insurers have already warned of the likelihood of large increases in premia next year following the Budget announcement of plans to maximise public hospital income from private patients.
These measures are outlined in the Department submission, and include increasing current private bed charge levels in public hospitals, and changing the law to allow hospitals to levy charges when private patients are accommodated in public beds.
Currently, private patients are sometimes accommodated in public beds when no designated private beds are available.
The report says some mechanism or combination of measures would have to be developed to prevent patients paying their consultants and getting preferential access over public patients to public hospital services.
The report said this would no longer be an issue when universal health insurance is in place after 2016.
However, possible shorter-term options in this regard included charging for such patients or preventing consultants from admitting them as private patients, it added.
These options would be considered in the context of the work now being done by Dr James Reilly's Special Delivery Unit to introduce maximum waiting times for hospital treatment.
The submission also outlines other measures, including improving hospital income collection from private patients.
The submission states that hospitals are currently owed €162 million in uncollected income from private insurance companies for private patient accommodation.
[Posted: Wed 14/12/2011]