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A recent survey by Bloomberg rated Hong Kong’s healthcare system the most efficient in the world with high life expectancy (83.4 years) coupled with comparatively low state expenditure on healthcare. Most expats however, are not eligible for state-funded healthcare and have to opt for private sector treatment. As you would expect, the country’s world-class hospitals and consultants come at a price and often the cost is unknown at the beginning of a course of treatment, which can lead to some nasty surprises down the line. Being left with an unexpectedly large bill is certainly something that has caught many an expats by surprise sometimes with serious financial consequences.
Hong Kong’s government-run Food and Health Bureau is taking steps to deal with this issue by introducing new laws in 2014 which will force doctors and hospitals in the private sector to clearly set out the cost of medical treatment in advance of it being given. While public hospitals are obliged by law to standardise their pricing, this legislation does not currently extend to the private sector where hospitals and doctors can set their own fees. These can vary greatly depending on the equipment used and the experience of the specialist.
The aims of the new legislation are threefold:
· To reduce the number of price disputes between patients and hospitals
· To enable patients to compare the cost of treatment at different hospitals
· To better equip patients to budget for any treatment they require.
The proposed laws come in the wake of an Audit Commission report which criticised private hospitals for the lack of information given to patients prior to treatment as well as the government’s failure to regulate them. The legislation is believed to be a precursor for further measures which will encourage Hong Kongers to opt for private healthcare in an attempt to take the pressure of overstretched services in public hospitals.
Questions remain on how far the proposed legislation will go and whether the cost of treatment will be an exact figure or a price range, however it is thought that the Food and Health Bureau will favour a model along the lines of that used in Singapore. Under this system, patients receive one median estimate of cost and a second which sets an upper limit. At present only two private hospitals in Hong Kong voluntarily provide advance information regarding fees.
Legislation of this nature is not without issue. Doctors argue that over the course of treatment, patients often require additional procedures not originally accounted for, and this must be taken into consideration when laws are drafted.
Patients and advocates of patient rights will welcome this move towards transparency however the fact remains that if you were to need hospital treatment as an expat in Hong Kong you are looking at bills running into the thousands. To avoid this impacting on your income or savings, medical insurance is an absolute necessity. With a wide range of plans and benefits available, it may be worth speaking to a specialist in this area. Infinity work with all the top international insurers and can ensure that you have an appropriate level of cover for the requirements of you and your family. If you would like more information please get in touch.