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Thursday, 25 October 1973
Page: 2776

Dr Klugman asked the Minister for Health, upon notice:

Is he able to furnish details of the amounts written off as bad debts by public hospitals in each of the last 3 years for which figures are available.

Dr Everingham (CAPRICORNIA, QUEENSLAND) (Minister for Health) - The answer to the honourable member's question is as follows:

Comparisons between figures relating to bad debts written off by public hospitals can be notoriously misleading. Differences occur between hospital administrations both in the procedures adopted to assess a patient's ability to pay and in the method of subsequently raising accounts and recording adjustments in the hospital's ledgers. Changes in the accounting procedures used will also result in amendments to previously published bad debt levels.

The relevant authorities have, however, provided the following figures:

A change in the accounting system after 1969-70 in New South Wales is primarily responsible for the sharp decline in the figures shown. Part of the increase in the amount written off in 1971-72 for that State is attributable to the fact that a 50 per cent increase in patients' fees was introduced on 1 August 1971.

The amounts written off in Queensland are in respect of public hospitals controlled by the State.

It should be noted that public ward treatment is free in Queensland and bad debts are in respect of private and intermediate ward patients. The amount written off for the year 1970-71 was particularly low and there was a substantial carryover of bad debts to the following year. Increased fees also contributed to the amount written off in 1971-72. Private ward fees were increased in November 1970 from $10 to $13.50, and in November 1971, to $17.00 (plus extras). Intermediate ward fees were increased in November 1970 from $8.00 to $11.00, and in November 1971 to $14.00 (plus extras).

Chronic ward fees were increased in November 1971 from $5.00 to $14.00 per day. During 1971-72 there was an increase in hospital fund contributions in Queensland, accompanied by a two month waiting period to obtain benefits. The increase in chronic ward fees during the two month waiting period was written off by the hospitals in 1971-72.

The increase in bad debts written off in the Australian Capital Territory in 1971-72 is attributed to an increase in in-patient fees. On 1 August 1971 general ward fees were increased from $10.40 to $15.00 and private ward fees from $16.40 to $26.30.

In Victoria the practice is to charge in-patients in public hospitals the full normal fee and later to assess their ability to pay, thus reducing the charge to that level. The amount by which the charge is reduced is expressed as an adjustment of the fee to a practical level. Assessed deductions and uncollected income for public hospitals in that State for the three years 1969-70 to 1971-72 were, 1969-70 $2,100,293; 1970-71 $1,521,683; and 1971-72 $2,490,693.

Amounts written off as bad debts by public hospitals in South Australia are not available at present. However, in answer to House of Representatives Question No. 3351 in 1971, an amount of $633,700 was shown as representing the value of bad debts written off during 1969-70 by public hospitals in South Australia other than Country Subsidised Hospitals.

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