While many countries in the Far East are welcoming visitors who want to use their medical facilities, a few in Europe dread the presence of these health tourists. Take the United Kingdom, for instance. Despite the NHS in England earning 25 million pounds sterling from health tourists annually, it accrues 5 million pounds in unpaid bills.
So now, according to BBC News, the Department of Health is proposing that visitors to the UK could be required to hold health insurance before they can enter the country. In a separate immigration review, the UK could also refuse entry to foreigners owing money for health care. This ruling however does not apply to visitors from the EU.
The department conceded that, while the unpaid debts were small in relation to overall NHS spending, it was “important that we maximise recovery, not least to discourage deliberate abuse by a small minority of visitors”.
Hmm..this will be a retrogressive step if applied, as health tourism has been a source of substantial foreign earnings for those countries actively promoting it, and the UK could do with some foreign direct investments. While I can understand the rationale behind this move, there are alternatives which might not be too difficult to implement, instead of checking every visitor for a valid insurance card at Immigrations.
For instance, improving the payment processes at the point of admission to hospitals, by having a deposit or a credit-card guarantee, can mitigate payment defaulters before the problems start. In essence, the NHS has to get out of its socialized medicine mentality and begin to function as a corporate entity in the way a Hospital trust should.
Meanwhile, if this must-have-insurance rule is applied, it wouldn’t be too far away before health issues pertaining to human rights will be raised, should any visitor be deprived of healthcare which is generally considered a basic human right.
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