Limerick hospital paid €34,000 to debt collectors at peak of Covid crisis

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Aontú leader Peadar Tóibín

UNIVERSITY Hospital Limerick (UHL) paid debt collection agencies more than €34,000 to collect attendance fees and related charges from patients during the peak of the Covid pandemic.

Figures from the HSE, show that UHL paid debt collectors €24,197 in 2020 and €10,162 in the first nine months of last year to pursue unpaid patient charges and the €100 emergency department fee.

This was at a time when the hospital had the worst overcrowding figures in the country and patients had to remain on trolleys for long periods while waiting for beds to become available.

Hospitals operated by the HSE paid debt collectors €568,074 in 2020 and €362,964 up to October of last year, according to information provided to Aontú leader Peadar Tóibín.

Acute operations general manager Brian Dunne said the HSE  has a statutory obligation to levy and collect these charges, and hospitals have the discretion to operate payment plans where appropriate.

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“Hospitals are required to refer any unpaid debt to a collection agency after a period of time from date of billing,” he explained.

“Hospital groups issue reminders of outstanding debts to patients before referral to a debt collection agency. The quantity and frequency of these reminders varies between hospital groups and individual hospitals,” Mr Dunne added.

Deputy Tóibín said that the hospital charges can add to the financial stress of getting sick and come on top of hidden costs such as travel, accommodation, meals, loss of income due to taking time off work and hospital car parking fees.

He added that the current cost-of-living crisis will exacerbate this situation.