Ask A Broadsheet Reader



David writes:

A letter I received a couple of days ago.

Now tell me this: if I was, let’s say, a plumber and I did extensive work at the hospital.

I got paid what I asked for on the day.

Can I go back to them nearly nine months later and say I undercharged them? And please remit the shortfall?

In fact, what other business (apart from the revenue, who make up their own laws) can do such a thing? You’d laugh if a restaurant tried it, or a house or car insurer.

How many of these letters go out? How many people pay up meekly?

In my humble opinion, this is the printed version of spam (especially given the extra apostrophe in the plural of ‘cheque’).

Does the person signing these letters ever put themselves in the recipients’ shoes?What do readers think?


68 thoughts on “Ask A Broadsheet Reader

  1. mark

    Barringtons is a private hospital. Did you sign a contract with them when you were treated? My guess is you can tell them to go hang.

    1. DavidT

      9 months later Mark, details of paperwork are hazy, naturally.

      Recently I was booked into Galway Clinic and I got a phone call from them – in advance – to tell me my insurance didn’t cover the visit, so naturally I asked my GP to reschedule where I am covered. I would have done that last year if Barringtons had done a similar job.

      1. Barry the Hatchet

        That was nice of Galway Clinic, but it’s really not their responsibility to check the nature and extent of your insurance cover in advance. It’s your responsibility.

        1. David

          Fair enough Barry but my point was, at one place you’re told what the charges will be in advance – and at the other, you get a surprise bill in the post a random amount of time later.

          Maybe people should always be informed what the procedure number is, then to check that they’re covered. This has happened to me. A phone call is all that’s needed.

          1. Bookworm

            That’s nonsense. If you attend a private clinic for anything more than a routine checkup you wouldn’t have a reasonable expectation it’s only going to cost you €50. That’s really the key.

        2. David

          Another point is, they knew enough about my policy to charge me the correct excess. I had my insurer’s card with me.

  2. LennyZero

    You should probably know your terms and conditions of your health insurance. How are the hospital expected to know exactly what is covered in the plan you are on?

  3. Stephen

    you think that because nine months has lapsed that your entitled to be free of the debt?
    you think that because there is a minor punctuation error that it should be considered spam?
    you think that the hospital accepting your underpayment on the day and completing the procedure regardless should now write off the remaining debt?
    you think you might have neglected to read the small print in your health insurance cover and are now clutching at straws to avoid paying debt?
    I hope your procedure went well and at least one party satisfied the contractual agreement.
    I wonder if your jeopardising your insurance cover and may have difficulty accessing some healthcare services in future?

    1. Kolmo

      Profit driven health system = wholesale racketeering.

      (Granted, our public system is managed by Dickensian barbarians and serious modernisation of attitudes to the treatment of medical staff needs to happen, without question.)

    2. David

      Nice tone Stephen.

      But seriously, you make some good points which I’ll think about.

      No, go on: in my shoes, you’d pay up, no questions asked? Yes or no?

      1. Stephen

        i thought my tone followed the one you use in the original post.
        to be honest i’ve been known to skirt the odd bill when i can get away with it, i’ve also been known to miscalculate decisions and avoid responsibility and i’ve been criticised for doing so, and i’ve been known to make whopping grammatical and spelling mistakes, i think i’m improving / conforming on many fronts however but i still dont pay my tv license !

  4. Anomanomanom

    James hospital sent me a letter like this about 4 years ago. I binned it and still have heard nothing. Just ignore it.

  5. Otis Blue

    You’d be better off taking up the Claims Department invitation to contact it directly should you have any queries.

    1. David

      Yeah, I know. I wanted a couple of days cooling off first. It’s a good bit over half a week’s wage.

    1. David

      I can assure you I’m not one of your friends, Bookworm.

      I’ll do the right thing, I’m open to sensible feedback.

  6. Catherinecostelloe

    I wrote to Simon Harris earlier this year in respect of a limerick university hospital porter up on charges of a machine gun found under his floorboards after garda raid. His antecedents showed he came straight out of prison after a long stretch for gbh with intent into porters job in 1999. My letter was eventually answered ‘private matter”. # Only in Ireland.!!!! Re your invoice it was their error so fight it David. You could have gone to other hospital under insurance policy .Fight!

  7. TheOtherGuy

    What’s happened here is probably that the hospital have asked your insurance company to pay the bill. I’m not sure obviously, but it’s possible that they reconcile on a quarterly basis so there would be a number of payments due. The insurer would then revert saying something along the lines of “customer isn’t fully covered for this procedure and you should bill them directly for the amount due” which they have then done, albeit down the line a bit.

    I’m pretty sure it’s up to the patient to check with their insurer to see if what level of cover they have for procedures in the nominated hospital and not the hospital.

    That being the case – I’d be of the view they’re entitled to bill you for the excess.

    It’s obviously not ideal but I think you’ll find that they’re entitled to come back and ask for it.

    1. Lush

      Reckon you are right; it’s a quarterly thing so only coming through the system now.
      David, nothing to stop you paying them in installments.

  8. kellma

    Id just ring them and ask them how it can be that you only now are made aware of what the costs are. At the very least it is in your own interest to ask what you need to pay for services you avail of whether that money comes out of your own pocket or you get reimbursed by your insurance (partly or fully depending on). The contract is between you and the hospital. Insurance or lack thereof is not really their problem. But maybe the hospital made a mistake on the day and only picked up on it now (cleaning up files etc.) If they made a mistake then it would be normal for them to try and recover the shortfall. Whether or not you pay all or some of that depends on you and a combination of your debating skills and views on entitlement.

    1. Daisy Chainsaw

      Ask for a complete breakdown of costs and how they were calculated. Contact your insurance company and request the same and also ask why should you continue to pay for insurance that’s not fit for purpose and tell them that as soon as you’re due to renew you’ll be shopping around.

  9. rotide

    You paid them 50 quid and you still owe them 287 quid. What exactly is the problem here?

    I don’t know why you’re using restaurant analogies when they bear no relation to this.

    1. Goosey Lucy

      I agree Rotide. But I would say: if you want to go along with the restaurant analogy- I was out with a group of acquaintances for dinner, and when the bill arrived I noticed that I hadn’t been charged for my main course. Naturally enough , (I thought!), I brought it to the waitress’ attention- this angered some people in the group, as we were splitting the bill, despite the fact that I had eaten it.
      Told me all I needed to know about those people tbh

  10. Owen

    David, this seem to me like an error by the hospital, and nothing to do with your insurer (or how they will treat you in the future). I would probably not pay it. I might call the hospital to inquire about the error then decide, but essentially its up to you, in my view. They might might say in future that you have an outstanding bill, and tell them the same then, that you were undercharged and its their error (or just play dumb).

    Its your call…. but know this, whatever you do, whatever you chose, the internet will judge you a fool.

    1. David

      Yes Owen, pay up or not, I’m right and I’m wrong – but I just want to do the right thing.

      I’ll probably pay it in the end, because I’m an honest and ordinary person.

      I’ll probably pay it despite massive and ever-increasing health insurance costs, having already paid the excess (€50), the doctor’s referral fee (€50) and the consultant’s initial fee (€180) on top of obligatory social contributions etc etc etc. As Kolmo says above, wholesale racketeering.

      1. Goosey Lucy

        David, your level of insurance didn’t cover the entire procedure. Not all Heath insurance policies are created equal.
        It seems they made an error, but you do owe the money.
        You also made an error if you assumed/ did not check in advance if your procedure was covered

      2. Goosey Lucy

        Also David- private health insurance is not mandatory. I’ve been to hospital with and without health insurance and found both to be excellent
        You’ve given out about the cost of private health insurance (voluntary) as a sort of justification to even think about not paying up. That’s inexcusable.

          1. Goosey Lucy

            You’re right, David. Is that what you need to hear? Seems like it.
            Mistakes happen, but you must’ve made a mistake too. So if you’re still feeling bad about it- I’ve a pile of washing up needs doing…

  11. David

    It’s a quite basic point: a private business – a hospital, a restaurant, an electrician – anyone running a private business asking for more money nearly a year after the event. Life would be impossible if this were the rule.

    1. Gorev Mahagut

      True. And yet… a lot of the so-called “professional classes” (solicitors, private dentists and doctors, accountants, architects and so on) work in exactly this way. The implication is that querying the cost in advance is grubby and lower-class. They want you to be too embarrassed to ask questions. And they wait months to bill you precisely so you’re memory of events is a bit fuzzy.

      I had a friend who, years ago, got a job in an accountancy firm. He was instructed as follows: when a client wants to discuss business, offer to meet them over dinner. In an expensive restaurant. Pay the full bill. Then, a few months later, slip it in as an expense (hidden among other items) on their invoice. My friend felt this was dishonest. He didn’t last long as an accountant.

      I think you’re right to query this. At least put them to the hassle of justifying their nonsense in writing.

      1. rotide

        The implication is that querying the cost in advance is grubby and lower-class.

        What are you babbling about?

        Who DOESN’T query costs in advance? I think you’ll find that the ‘professional classes’ that your whining about are just people who ‘aren’t stupid’ and check prices.

  12. Niamh

    Write and ask for a full breakdown of monies charged, who paid what, what remains outstanding, and evidence of non-payment by your insurer. Also request same/similar from your insurer. When these are supplied, put in a FOI request to be given access to all your files after these have been appropriately redacted. Also ask for a net/gross tax breakdown of sum if relevant. You’re legally entitled to all of this info.

    One of two things will happen: it will turn out you don’t owe that, or it’ll turn out you do owe that.

    Either way you’ll buy yourself up to six months of delay before they can ask for it again.

    Bear in mind that, if unpaid, they can/will send bailiffs after you, unfortunately.

        1. Deirdre

          NIamh doesn’t know her stuff. Why would a private hospital and a private health insurance company be subject to FOI?

  13. JLK

    I thought checking with your health insurer was the normal thing to do and what I’ve done in the past to check the hospital and consultant are covered by them and what’s the shortfall before proceeding as an alternative location may be needed. If you don’t do this then that’s on you, not anyone else. Hospital is tardy in getting back to you on it but don’t see how that’s an issue to be honest – the health insurance could’ve been slow to get back to them and may have taken time to work out. Call your insurance company, if procedure wasn’t covered minus €50 then there’s nothing you can do but pay up. I don’t see how this is a shocking issue.

  14. rotide

    It’s amusing that so many people here are urging this clown not to pay what he owes.

    Mostly the same people who whine on ad nauseum about Bono and DOB not paying what they owe.

    The hypocrisy is astounding

    1. David

      rotide, this little exercise in asking Broadsheet readers works out around 50/50 fork out/feck ’em – with two or three neutrals – and I’m genuinely grateful for all perspectives.

      Your contribution is appreciated!

      The clown

        1. Goosey Lucy

          Bodger- I’d politely disagree. Not fair play. Not at all. In fact, the very opposite.
          While I’d certainly be querying the bill , due to the delay,I’d have checked with my health insurance provider in advance and would know exactly what was due . If his insurance provider told him he was covered, then he ought to take it up with them.
          But tbh, he moaned about other fees (presumably not covered in insurance) by way of saying “I’ve paid enough”. That’s how it works, it’s dependent on your policy. Want more cover? Pay more.
          Or- don’t have private health insurance!- nobody is forced to

          1. DavidT

            Well, yeah Goosey. A procedure not covered by my insurance recently was scheduled quickly and efficiently in a public hospital

            I mentioned private insurance and was told to forget it, “Just come in as a public patient.” Sigh…

  15. Shayna

    I do recall checking into The Nuffield in Brighton (A nose job) -it was consul process, before I could see the surgeon, they swiped my Mastercard.

    1. Shayna

      I do have to say, despite the unusual check-in procedure, Nuffield Brighton is the measure (for me) of other hospitals. The eggs florentine for breakfast was a triumph. I’m sorry if I appear bourgeoisie, I kinda am!

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