Thousands of mainland dependents of Hong Kong residents will not be exempted from fee increases of up to nearly 80 percent for non-locals at public hospitals and clinics, the government said yesterday.
But legislators in a health services panel backed a non-binding motion calling on the government to reverse the "discriminatory policy" and charge mainland-Hong Kong families the same as local residents, who pay just HK$100 a day for general beds.
From April 1, the Hospital Authority will raise fees for non-obstetric general wards by 42 percent to HK$4,680 a day (from HK$3,300) and accident and emergency fees by 74 percent to HK$990 (from HK$570) for "non-eligible persons."
Beds in intensive care units will be raised 65 percent to HK$23,000 a day while general outpatient fees will increase 79 percent to HK$385.
The government will amend the definition of "eligible persons" to counteract the practice of former Hong Kong residents who return to the SAR and use their old Hong Kong ID cards to avail of the low charges.
"Eligible persons" will be redefined as only those "Hong Kong residents according to the Basic Law and other persons approved by the chief executive of the Hospital Authority," such as prominent foreign dignitaries.
Civic Party legislator Kwok Ka-ki said marriages between Hongkongers and mainlanders are getting more popular. "This policy is discriminatory and it will be a tragedy for such families."
But Undersecretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan Siu-chee said the current policy considers service users, not whether their spouses are Hong Kong residents.
Chan said market prices have gone up since 2003 while fees have not been changed.
With a 44.5 percent average increase in fees for those who are not eligible for inpatient and outpatient services, this means "an annual increase of 3 percent over the 10-year period," she said.
Mainland-Hong Kong Families Rights Association organizer Tsang Koon-wing said the increase in fees is unfair.
He said two-way permit holders have told the group that if they fall sick, they would rather go back to the mainland where they pay a few hundred yuan, compared to at least HK$1,000 in Hong Kong.