A crackdown on foreigners having medical treatment and leaving taxpayers to pay the bill has saved the Bay health board hundreds of thousands of dollars.
In September 2011, the Bay of Plenty District Health Board introduced rules requiring all patients seeking non-urgent care to prove they were New Zealand citizens and pre-pay for elective operations and out-patient care.
Other health boards followed suit.
Since then, it is estimated hundreds of thousands of dollars have been saved locally, with an outstanding bill of $65,845 from $817,787 spent on foreign patients in 2011/12.
The board has been left to cover $604,243 of unpaid bills from foreign citizens over the past five years.
The bill comes after years of foreigners amassing hefty bills for medical treatment and leaving the country without paying.
Nationally, medical bills for foreigners ballooned to $29.6 million in 2010/11, up from $22.2 million three years earlier.
ACC and non-resident and private patient manager Rebecca Stevenson said the drop in cost was the result of the policy being introduced.
"I believe locally, we have reduced the amount of ineligible patients seeking healthcare because in the past they thought they would get through the system for free without being detected."
Ms Stevenson said despite that it could take just one seriously ill patient needing an extended hospital stay to skew the financial cost for the year.
Of this year's top treatment costs for foreign patients, the board is yet to receive payment of $33,023 for hypokalaemia (a condition of below normal levels of potassium in th blood), $26,979 for childbirth and appendicitis, $25,751 for life threatening appendicitis, and $21,954 for urosepsis (severe urinary infection). None of these patients had a visa.
Under the policy, foreign patients were advised to enquire as to the cost of seeing a specialist privately as that could be a cheaper and quicker option because a public hospital comparatively had higher overhead costs.
From next year, hospitals will be able to check citizenship details under a data matching agreement with the Department of Internal Affairs.
Ms Stevenson said ineligible patients needing emergency treatment were seen "without question" but still invoiced for their care.
The minimum charge for ineligible patients to receive treatment in the emergency department was $390.
Health Minister Tony Ryall said most New Zealanders would no longer have to prove their citizenship or residency to receive free healthcare because of changes to the National Health Index (NHI) database.
From the middle of next year, citizenship can be data matched with NHI numbers. "This will effectively identify those not eligible for publicly funded health services. We had to take action like this because many people don't like being asked to prove they are New Zealanders."
At least $177,923 was left outstanding from a total cost of $852,024 for the treatment of foreign patients in the Bay health board's district in the 2010/11 financial year.
In 2009/10, $62,694 was unpaid from $445,040 spent.
The year prior to that was $2356 from $430,854.