Thursday, May 7, 2009

Doctors Overcharging Tourists

Recently a scam being perpetrated on tourists by New Zealand doctors has come to light and has received publicity on NZ television.

In Aotearoa / New Zealand our medical service is partially funded by charges made to the patients and partially funded from taxes. Hospital care at public hospitals is free for New Zealand citizens and permanent residents and depending on circumstances, half or more of the costs of visits to general practitioners is covered by the government for New Zealand citizens and residents.

Usually tourists have to pay the entire cost of their medical care and are expected to have travel insurance to cover the cost, but because of two treaties, one between NZ and Australia and the other between NZ and the United Kingdom, tourists from those two countries are entitled to receive medical care here on the same basis as New Zealanders and kiwis touring in those countries are entitled to receive medical care on the same basis as locals.

At the practical level, this all means that when tourists (other than British or Australians) visit a general practitioner or an after hours medical service they get charged a higher rate than locals. Recently a young woman from England was visiting here when she got sick. She needed ongoing treatment and visited several doctors as she continued her travels around the country until she visited a doctor who charged her a lot less than the other doctors had charged her. Thinking that the doctor had made a mistake she queried the charge and when she did, the story came out. The final doctor had correctly applied the subsidy and charged her the same as she would have charged a local.

I suppose the story would normally have ended there, but the honest doctor was so incensed by the poor treatment the young English woman had received that she went to the media. Naturally the overcharging doctors refused to talk to the television reporters and we can assume that they will continue to do this.

There's a lesson in here, one that will be hard to get out. If you're an international tourist you need to have travel insurance and medical insurance is part of that, but you also need to find out in advance what the rules and common practices are at your destination. If you're an Australian or Briton coming to New Zealand, remember that you are expected to pay the same as locals.

Originally published on Qondio


[get this widget]