Complaints over abuse of the General Healthcare System payments are rising, as specialist doctors charge patients at a higher rate instead of the GHS fee, according to patient associations.
According to a report by the Cyprus Federation of Patients Associations observatory, specialists are turning down patients with a GHS referral, claiming they are fully booked.
Patients are then told that they could ‘go privately’ by booking an appointment with the same practitioner but not through the General Healthcare System.
This means the patient must pay €25 to the specialist instead of a fixed rate of €6 per visit.
Giving an example of the abuse, the patients’ federation said that a citizen referred to a GHS contracted urologist for an urgent appointment was told that he had to book a ‘private’ session as all available appointments were taken.
In another case, a patient saw an eye doctor after being referred by his GP but was asked by the doctor’s secretary to pay a surcharge of €25 instead of €6, claiming that these were the instructions the Health Insurance Organisation gave.
The observatory said many patients have reported that GPs are registering phone calls by patients to renew their medication prescriptions as visits, charging the HIO.
In some cases, this has led to patients using up the number of visits they are entitled to, according to their age group.
Once the limit is reached, each GP visit is charged €25.
As the observatory said, a woman reported that her GP had registered two phone calls as visits occurring in a single day.
The woman had contacted her GP for a referral to a specialist but had to get in touch with her physician a second time as the referral issued was incorrect.
Both calls were registered as visits.
In comments to Phileleftheros daily, the head of the patients’ federation, Charalambos Papadopoulos, said: “The HIO must immediately enforce tighter checks on GHS providers, as the practice of registering phone calls as visits is becoming widespread.”
He said specialist doctors could charge patients €25 if the appointment is booked after 8 pm or on weekends and holidays.
“In no other case can a GP charge more than the set rate of €6.
“GHS contracted physicians can only charge patients €25 if they do not have a referral note from their GP,” said Papadopoulos.
Cypriots were shocked by reports of abuse in the GHS, with a small minority of service providers making hundreds of thousands of euros within the first months of the system’s operation.
Auditor-general Odysseas Michaelides has cited various documented cases of abuses by doctors.
A recent probe by his office found that a specialist doctor was compensated with €870,742 in 2020 for outpatient services, while 11 specialists had an income of over €500,000.
The earnings of one individual GP for children reached €421,283, while 67 specialist doctors had annual earnings of over €300,000.