Hospitals spend over €3.2m to chase debts

Public hospitals have spent over €3.2m on debt collectors to hunt down failed patient payments in just seven years.

HSE figures revealed under the Freedom of Information Act show that between Jan 2011 and Aug 2012, the facilities spent €815,860 to reclaim non-paid patient fees.

The level is the equivalent of €1,320 every day and means over €3.2m has been spent since 2005 on chasing lost payments. Between 2005 and Dec 2010, the average daily spend amounted to €1,098.90.

The Jan 2011 to Aug 2012 costs, obtained by trade newspaper the Medical Independent, relate to unpaid emergency department charges and additional bills for inpatient private care.

They show that:

* Hospitals are spending almost €40,000 monthly chasing unpaid patient fees — the equivalent of €1,320 every day;

* The biggest spender during the 20-month period was Beaumont which paid just over €165,000 — or €8,250 per month;

* The top four included the Midland Regional in Tullamore (€54,302); Wexford General (€22,132) and Waterford General (€15,024);

* Since Jan 2011, the HSE Dublin North East region spent the most (€378,630) for the services;

* It was followed by the HSE South (€224,337); HSE Dublin Mid Leinster (€170,237); and the HSE West (€42,654).

The vast majority of the 2011-2012 payouts — €740,000 — went to just three debt collection firms.

These are LCMS Legal, Management & Credit (€360,288), Intrum Justitia (€263,940), and Debitask (€114,744), while €76,896 was paid to smaller firms.

The Irish Examiner revealed last year hospitals had spent €2.4m between 2005 and Dec 2010 in a bid to track down €266m.

Among the hospitals to have paid the most during that period were Tallaght (€395,000), Waterford Regional (€172,000), Ennis (€128,978) and Cork University Hospital (€102,000).

The non-paid money related to private and road traffic accident fees (€221m), other outstanding patient fees (€28m), emergency department charges (€13m) and unsettled “miscellaneous” costs (€4m).

The payouts are a further drain on hospitals, which are one of the biggest budget headaches in the system.

While public hospitals were €152m over-budget at the end of 2007 — double 2006’s rate — they had hit the same overspend level by July this year after repeated cuts to their funding.

A small number of patients contacted by debt collection agencies have complained to the HSE in recent years. However, hospitals argue that without the funds, services could be damaged. In September, the HSE said it is maximising “the recovery of income in a socially responsible, ethical, efficient and cost-effective way”.

“Initial follow-up on outstanding debt is carried out by each hospital and includes the use of reminder letters. Collection agencies are used when the normal collection process has been exhausted,” it said at the time.

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