Maternity care: flat fee

The Coombe maternity hospital in Dublin has started to ask its patients to pay in advance for care, amid concerns over non-payment of bills.

Mothers-to-be have started to receive letters from the hospital asking them to pay their bills upfront and in their totality.

The Coombe would not release figures on how many women have not paid their hospital bills, but a spokeswoman said the numbers were "relatively low".

"We can't release the exact figures as that is sensitive information," she said.

According to the hospital, the fee being charged before admission is for antenatal care and not for accommodation.

"The antenatal fee covers the care she receives in the semi-private clinic during her pregnancy.

"It's a flat fee per patient no matter how often they attend and is payable in advance by the patient. Some insurers cover this totally, others only partially, hence we look for the money upfront."

Previously, all charges were sent to parents in the weeks after the births of their babies.

The hospital also said that a patient would be billed for accommodation beforehand if they did not have the appropriate insurance cover.

"Up to a few years ago, we billed people for accommodation costs after they had delivered, then got them to reclaim from their insurer. Now we have a direct payment agreement with the major insurers that allows us to reclaim the money
for accommodation costs from them rather than the patient.

"This is of course assuming that the patient has the appropriate cover, otherwise the patient is liable for any costs the insurer won't cover," said spokesman Brendan Murphy.