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With patient debt increasing ACT Health has recently had no choice but to tender for a debt collection agency in an attempt to recoup millions of dollars.
The tender, which was only released on 30 June, requires the appointed agency to not only collect debts across Australia but also worldwide where a Medicare card was not able to be produced and the patient billed privately by the hospital.
Tender documents show that currently ACT Health have no way in which to escalate the collection of outstanding debts with the Financial Management Act 1996 dictating that phone calls and letters of demand can be made at 30, 60 and 90 days.
ACT Health has indicated that initially debts will be managed internally before being outsourced to an agency and ACT Health themselves may waive a debt on compassionate grounds after being assessed on a case-by-case basis. Patients whose country of origin has a Reciprocal Health Care Agreement with Australia can access free public hospital treatment. Those countries include New Zealand, Republic of Ireland, Belgium, Netherlands, Slovenia, Norway, Sweden, Finland, The United Kingdom, Italy and Malta however students from Norway, Final, Malta and the Republic of Ireland are not covered by the Reciprocal Health Care Agreement.
The Executive Director of health Care Consumers' Association of the ACT, Darlene Cox, said in a statement, "Health care isn't free, we pay for it through our taxes and if people here aren't able to contribute the way others do, it means bearing cost of their care".
Data sourced from ACT Health indicates that between June 2012 and June 2017 unpaid patient debt has risen from $1.4 million to $6.6 million, an increase of 78% over a 5 year period.