Fine hospital consultants for delays in signing off claims, urges councillor

The HSE West should consider imposing financial penalties on hospital consultants who delay signing off private health insurance claims, a member of the health authority’s regional health forum said this week.

Cllr Michael Mullins made his comments as a meeting of the forum was told that the HSE West was owed €36 to €37 million by private health insurance companies.

HSE director of finance Liam Minihan said it had difficulty in some instances getting consultants’ signatures for the paperwork which was holding up the process.

The consultants are a “bigger problem” than the health insurance companies in relation to income collection, he stated.

He said the west was no different from other parts of the country in this regard.

He outlined there were a number of initiatives taking place at local and national level to tackle this issue. These included setting targets, redeploying staff into income collection areas and weekly monitoring of the problem. At national level negotiations were taking place with the VHI in relation to the introduction of an electronic submission of claims.

Forum chairperson Cllr Padraig Conneely asked why were hospital consultants being so “unfair”, denying money to the hospitals by not signing off these claims promptly, and accused them of being “careless” in this regard.

“Why isn’t this done already? It’s disappointing it’s not being done and money is still due to the HSE.

Mayo councillor Austin Francis O’Malley described the problem as “bad housekeeping”. He said €42m was outstanding originally but now it had been reduced to €36m.

Liam Minihan explained there was a pilot scheme running in six Irish hospitals whereby secondary consultants can sign off claims. This will be implemented in Galway hospitals next, he said.

Cllr Conneely likened some consultants to “peacocks” going around the hospitals “with their briefcases”. Millions were outstanding to the HSE because they failed to sign off these claims, he said.

“It’s incredible you have to have a pilot scheme to satisfy consultants. They’re getting a bloody good salary. They should be more considerate and co-operative and helpful.”

John Hennessy, the HSE West’s regional director of operations, said the west was doing better in relation to income collection than other areas. It had improved dramatically, he said, but it still represented a “huge problem”. Claims cannot be sent to the insurers until the consultants sign off on them, he stated.

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