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British Government tired of picking up bill for medical tourists, mulls changes

Posted on Mar 10, 2010 by Sergio Ulloa ()  | Tags: British National Health Service, NHS

The British Government is looking at a number of proposals that would attempt to curtail the number of medical tourists who leave without paying the bill, such as forcing visitors to show proof of medical insurance before entering the country. The British Home Office has put forward ideas on ways to curtail the abuse of the National Health Service (NHS) system by visitors as the Department of Health is seeking to recover £22 million (US$32.9 million) in debt from foreign nationals that have received NHS services in the last 2 years without paying for them. Numerous individual NHS Trusts are said to be seeking repayment of over £1 million in outstanding medical costs, including: London's Imperial College Healthcare which is seeking £1.4 million including two £50,000 unpaid bills, one for a patient from the United Arab Emirates and one from Egypt; Pennine Acute Trust in Manchester has £1.2 million in outstanding bills, of which £34,000 is owed by a Malawian national with HIV; and Barts and the London NHS Trust is seeking repayment of £1.3 million, including a £52,000 surgery bill for a Chinese citizen. On average, unsettled bills are £1,000, while numbers from the British Department of Health show that 50% of outstanding bills are not settled within one year of receiving treatment and 5% of overseas patients have three or more invoices that haven't been paid. In total the NHS has to swallow £5 million in medical costs owed by foreigners every year. At the moment, immigration laws only allow for barring people that already have an outstanding balance with the NHS from coming into Britain specifically for medical treatment. However, the proposals would seek to prevent abuse of the NHS system by making changes to immigration laws including making non-resident foreign nationals show proof that they have health insurance when they go through immigration, and extending the amount of time British expatriates can spend overseas before losing access to NHS services. Any foreign visitor who already owes money to the NHS would be barred from entry into Britain, while any already in the country would be refused an extension of their visa until the debt has been settled. Also, any migrant seeking British citizenship will have their application delayed until any money they owe the NHS has been repaid. However, the proposals do allow free health care for failed asylum seekers who cannot be returned to their home nations at that time. The proposals would not cover people who are from countries in the European Economic Area or those nations where Britain has reciprocal healthcare agreements. There are however, some concerns due to the fact that the proposals would mean sharing information on non-paying individuals with the Border Agency, which may be in conflict with patient confidentiality rules.
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