Queensland’s public hospitals are owed $44 million in unpaid patient bills, primarily from Medicare-ineligible patients such as international travellers.
- The Metro North health service has contracted out its debt collection at a cost of $7 million
- Queensland Health says no patient will be refused care regardless of insurance
- Without Medicare, an overnight stay in a Queensland public hospital might cost upward of $2,300
The debt burden has prompted the state’s largest hospital and health service (HHS), Metro North, to contract out for debt collection services.
Metro North includes the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, Prince Charles, Redcliffe and Caboolture hospitals, and is owed $19.2 million.
Metro South, which covers the Princess Alexandra, QEII Jubilee, Logan, Redland and Beaudesert hospitals, is owed $7.9 million.
The Gold Coast HHS is owed $5.6 million and Cairns HHS $2.6 million.
In late 2018, The Australian reported that Queensland’s Medicare-ineligible patient debt burden was just $11 million.
A NSW Auditor-General report from November 2019 found NSW Health had $64 million in unpaid medical bills and wrote off $20 million as unrecoverable.
No patient turned away
A Queensland Health spokesperson said patient care was its top priority and no-one would be turned away from a public hospital, regardless of their health insurance situation.
“Patients that do not hold Medicare entitlements are classified as Medicare ineligible and are responsible for fees that relate to their treatment in Queensland public hospitals,” the spokesperson said.
For Medicare-ineligible patients, an overnight stay in a Queensland public hospital might cost upward of $2,300.
An emergency room visit for a category one patient — meaning a life-threatening situation that requires medical attention within 2 minutes – will cost $1,378.
In Tasmania, an overnight stay could cost about $2,500, while in Victoria’s Royal Melbourne Hospital an overnight stay would cost upward of $1,800.
Debt recovery contracts
Last year, Metro North went out to tender for debt recovery services at an estimated cost of $7 million.
It signed two contracts, one for $6.7 million with South Australia-based payment solutions company AusHealth Hospitals, and the other with Victorian debt collection company ICM Partnership for $190,000.
A Metro North spokesperson said Medicare-ineligible patients who did not have private insurance were advised of their likely fees and “supported to make arrangements and in navigating the complexities of the Australian health system”.
“As a result, Metro North Health, like other hospital and health services, outsources debt recovery in instances where they do not have the jurisdiction or capability to recover money from overseas.
“This is often from travel insurance companies but may include personal recovery.”
Australia has reciprocal healthcare provision agreements with 11 countries, including New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Italy, Belgium and Sweden.