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Hardship-causing upfront medical payments to be addressed

Government’s plans to address pricey medical payments have been welcomed as people are avoiding the doctor because they can’t afford to pay.

The Bermuda Health Council (BHeC) supports Premier Paula Cox’s aim to address the cost of upfront payments and overseas hospital care, as they remain “a source of hardship”.

The Throne Speech, which was delivered by Governor Sir Richard Gozney on Friday, stated that no one with health insurance should have to forgo medical attention “because they cannot afford to pay a physician up front and then wait to be reimbursed”.

Jennifer Attride-Stirling, CEO of the BHeC, said they were working with the Ministry of Health to try to resolve the issue of financial hardship.

She said: “BHeC has been concerned about the impact of upfront payments on patients with limited financial means. This refers to the requirement to pay the full fee at the time of service, to be reimbursed by the insurer independently.

“We have been monitoring the practice and the recent health survey shows that people are having less screening and health checks.

“Many providers do not charge upfront, or offer payment plans for patients on request. But we understand that for some patients, the prospect of an upfront charge is enough to simply avoid the visit.”

Dr Attride-Stirling added: “There is no solution that will make everyone happy, but the concern over patients’ access to care is the prerogative.”

As Sir Richard delivered the Government blueprint for the year, he said the issue of upfront payments for medical care was already being addressed and Government would also turn its attention to the cost of overseas care.

The Throne Speech stated: “The Government will redesign the standard hospital benefit. The redesign will target overseas care costs, which are considered excessive.

“The Ministry of Health’s Finance and Reimbursement Task Group and the Health Benefit Task Group are working closely together to price the new benefit package and develop a financial model for claims payment.”

Dr Attride-Stirling said overseas care accounts for 15 percent of Bermuda’s total health expenditure, and this has increased by an annual average of 20 percent since 2004.

She said: “This is an unsustainable level of increase.

“Bermuda will always need to rely on overseas care, because no community of our size anywhere in the world can have within its borders the range of tertiary services necessary to meet its population needs.

“However, if we want to control costs, we need to ensure such services are appropriately utilised for medically-necessary cases. Ultimately, people will want the freedom to seek care wherever they choose. All we can reasonably aim to control is the level of portability of the basic package.”

Another health matter addressed in the Throne Speech was to introduce dental services to Government clinics. It is understood that this would provide greater access to health services as some people don’t have dental check-ups because of lengthy waiting lists.

Sir Richard said: “Government is assessing whether it is more efficient and affordable to the community to assist persons seeking financial assistance for dental and medical expenses by providing them access to these services in Government clinics in the eastern, western and central parishes.”

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Published November 07, 2011 at 8:15 am (Updated November 07, 2011 at 8:15 am)

Hardship-causing upfront medical payments to be addressed

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