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Dublin: 15 °C Monday 13 July, 2020

Irish Cancer Society calls on HSE to stop referring patients' debt to collection agencies

The Irish Cancer Society is today publishing advice for patients on how best to deal with the charges.

File photo
File photo
Image: Shutterstock/VGstockstudio

THE IRISH CANCER Society has today called on the HSE to immediately stop referring cancer patients’ debt to collection agencies. 

The society claimed that patients are being sent letters threatening legal action, something it said is causing distress and worry to patients going through treatment. 

The Irish Cancer Society is today publishing advice for patients on how best to deal with the charges. 

Averil Power, chief executive of the Irish Cancer Society, said that some patients are being chased by debt collectors “sometimes for as little as €80″. 

The society has said that cancer patients without a medical card or private health insurance can face inpatient charges of up to €800 a year for treatment such as chemotherapy or radiation. 

Currently, under the HSE’s financial regulations, if the charges aren’t paid within 47 days their case can be referred by the hospital to debt collection agencies. 

“Coping with cancer can be the most emotionally, physically and financially challenging time of a person’s life. The last thing they need is the added stress and fear of being hounded by debt collectors, sometimes for as little as €80,” Power said. 

The HSE must stop this cruel and unnecessary practice immediately. 

Léa Hearst, a breast cancer patient living in Dublin said that she has received calls from a debt collection agency. 

“I’m really grateful the Irish Cancer Society is raising this issue,” Hearst said. 

“I was shocked when I started getting calls and letters on a regular basis from a debt collection agency. I found this extremely upsetting in the middle of fighting my cancer,” she said. 

I was very fearful about what it might mean for me if I didn’t deal directly with debt collectors. 

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“To be charged for basic treatment was hard to take in the first place, but to have that charge sent to a debt collector added a great deal of stress to a very difficult situation.”

In a statement, the HSE said that “patients who attend at public hospitals are, depending on their eligibility, and subject to certain exemptions, liable to statutory charges”, which are levied under the provisions of the 1970 Health Act. 

The charges are €100 for an emergency department attendance and €80 for an overnight stay, the latter being capped at €800 in any 12-month period, according to the statement. 

“These charges are separate from the private patient charges which are predominately collected via the health insurance companies,” it said. 

“The HSE has a statutory obligation to charge and collect these charges and hospitals have the discretion to operate payment plans where appropriate. 

If any patient has difficulty paying a hospital bill, we would advise they contact their hospital directly to discuss this on a one-to-one basis. 

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