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$51 mil. in PMH patient bills unpayable last year

Princess Margaret Hospital (PMH) had more than $115 million in billable services in the 2018/2019 fiscal year.

However, roughly $51 million in patient bills were deemed unpayable, according to a recent Public Hospitals Authority (PHA) document.

There were 233,926 “encounters” (patients receiving services) at PMH during the last fiscal year.

Roughly 45 percent of the patients were exempted from paying for their services.

According to the document, the exempted fees totaled almost $52 million.

The remaining billable services totaled $63.4 million.

However, only $12 million was collected by the hospital.

Minister of Health Dr. Duane Sands said the collection of fees was low because “you have people that cannot pay or did not pay”.

“The end result is that you only collect $12 million in an entity that has an annual budget of almost two hundred and something million dollars.”

Sands noted the hospital has a longstanding history of patients not paying bills.

In the 2017/2018 fiscal year, the government billed $64,063,223 at the hospital, but only 13 percent or $8,499,703 of that amount was collected.

During his budget debate contribution, Sands said, “Eighty-six percent of patients that access PHA do not pay for services. Of those that have been billed… from 1988 to 2018, over 30 years, Bahamians have racked up unpaid bills of $782,596,050.27.”

As a result, the Ministry of Health has been working on improving its billing and fee collection systems at the hospital, according to Sands.

“Let’s go to the public sector which does not have the capacity to generate such a bill,” he said.

“It does not have the capacity. It doesn’t have the IT infrastructure and so those bills are now generated by hand. Literally somebody sits down with a piece of paper.”

Sands said about 15 individuals have already received training in coding and billing.

“We are in the midst of hiring the appropriate financial staff,” he said.

“We have auditioned a number of IT solutions, billing solutions, etc. but they are not yet in place. These are major capital acquisitions.”

The minister said it is difficult to put a timeline on how long the process will take because “each step along the way requires approvals and justifications”.

Before the end of the first quarter, the Ministry of Health will hopefully make “a major, definitive step” regarding the introduction of revised fees in the healthcare system that would provide $40 million in annual revenue for the public health system, according to Sands.

“We would’ve had that discussion. The truth be told and the reason I said I believe is because we have to wait [for] the wording of the Cabinet conclusion,” he said.

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Jasper Ward

Jasper Ward started at The Nassau Guardian in September 2018. Ward covers a wide range of national and social issues. Education: Goldsmiths, University of London, MA in Race, Media and Social Justice

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