Consultants face sanctions after €80m shortfall
HOSPITAL consultants are being threatened with sanctions after cash-strapped public hospitals were left with unpaid invoices of €80m.
Consultants have to sign off on all invoices sent to insurance companies for treating private patients -- but they are so slow in doing so that around €80m of the €140m bill for 2009 remains outstanding.
Documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show that the Health Service Executive (HSE) plans to get tough with consultants who fail to sign their claim forms on time. In the documents, the HSE admits to the Department of Health that the delay in recovering private insurance accommodation claims was "excessive".
The low rate of income recovery for treatment of private patients has already been criticised by the Comptroller and Auditor General. It said the State was propping up the private medical system.
The HSE is now considering putting limits on the numbers of private patients a consultant can admit to public hospitals if there is no improvement.
Health Minister Mary Harney already told hospitals they had to improve their debt collection from health insurers for treating private patients in 2010.
And while private health companies have already been billed for €65.5m for 2009, there is an outstanding amount of €80m yet to be invoiced, sources revealed.
Two of the country's top private companies, VHI and Quinn Healthcare, say that once a claim is received from a public hospital, it is paid in the same fashion as that from a private hospital. There are no delays once the claim is received.
But sources said a public hospital takes, on average, three times as long to submit a claim compared with a private hospital.
Budget sanctions will also be imposed on hospital managers in 2010 who fail to reach a new target of obtaining payment within 60 days, and not the 100-day period in place, according to the documents.
The "ultimate target" is to move to 30 days in a bid to improve cash flow, according to a letter from the HSE to a top official at the Department of Health.