About R1,2-billion of public hospital fees are still outstanding from the 2004/05 financial year, the Democratic Alliance said on Thursday.
“An astonishing 68% of fees billed for the 2004/05 financial year were not paid,” said DA health spokesperson Dianne Kohler-Barnard.
Responding to answers tabled in Parliament, Kohler-Barnard said her party found that only R560-million (32%) was paid.
“This is a massive increase from 2002/03, when 44% of debt was paid, and 2003/04, when 46% was paid.”
She argued if this amount was paid, Minister of Health Manto Tshabalala-Msimang could afford to add R1 500 a month on to the salaries of the 83 000 health professionals in the public sector or construct a 1 500-bed hospital.
“The public revitalisation drive could get a kick-start despite public works,” she commented.
She said while it is recognised many hospitals are dealing largely with indigent and social-grant recipients who are largely exempted from paying their bills, the DA feels the problem lies with the poor system for reclaiming funds.
“The DA believes it is far more likely that the fault lies with the poor system of reclaiming funds from large funders like the Road Accident Fund, the Commission of Occupational Injuries and Diseases and various private medical-aid funds who accumulate large annual debts with hospitals,” she said.
She said that claiming money from large medical funders requires sophisticated technology and people with high-level skills.
“It can be concluded from these figures that the billing systems of many hospitals are not up to the task,” she said.
The poor reclamation of fees differs widely between provinces and is not restricted to poverty levels.
The Eastern Cape—regarded as one of the poorest provinces—only has 18% (R6,8-million) of its fees outstanding while another poor province—Limpopo—has 81% (R194-million) of its fees outstanding.
Gauteng has 56% (R223,3-million) outstanding and the Western Cape has 74% (R444,44-million) outstanding.
“The worst-performing hospital is Mahatma Ghandi in KwaZulu-Natal that has 92% or R1,53-million outstanding. This is the hospital where babies die,” she noted.
She was referring to a recent Klebsiella outbreak that killed 22 babies at the hospital in Phoenix.
The Natalspruit hospital in Gauteng has 80% of its fees outstanding, which amounts to R13-million, and the Pelonomi hospital in the Free State has 87% of its fees outstanding, amounting to R33,3-million.
“The DA believes the minister is doing everything she can to deflect the problems of non-payment on to paying patients in both the public and private sectors,” Kohler-Barnard said.
The health ministry was not immediately available for comment.