HomeEditorial CommentUse of debt collectors insensitive

Use of debt collectors insensitive

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THE practice by government hospitals to use debt collectors to recover money from former patients failing to settle bills is not only insensitive, but is open to serious abuse.

Last week we reported that Mpilo Central Hospital in Bulawayo had engaged a Harare-based debt collector, Well Cash Debt Collectors, which was sending letters of demands to former patients.

Some of the former patients were being hounded for amounts as low as $7. Once the debt collectors sent a letter of demand, a mark-up was added to recover administration costs.

The menacing letters make it clear that those who fail to pay within 24 hours would have their properties auctioned to recover the monies.

It is common knowledge that the majority of Zimbabweans are not employed. Lack of jobs is more pronounced in Bulawayo where companies have been closing down in very large numbers.

The disease burden has been very high because of the HIV and Aids scourge. There is no doubt that hospitals themselves are under immense pressure to recover money to fund their operations, but clearly there should be a difference between them and private health institutions.

The government has a responsibility to ensure that everyone has access to healthcare, a constitutionally-guaranteed right for every Zimbabwean. Hospitals should be assisted to find more humane ways of recovering their operational costs rather than for the government to leave them to their own devices.

As we report elsewhere, lawyers have raised questions about the legality of debt collectors with suggestions that they are not empowered to issue letters of demand threatening legal action.

One lawyer raised the question of accountability, which we found to be valid. The debt collectors are a law unto themselves and no one can call them into order when they cross the line.

The government has to reign in on hospitals in order to restore some sanity.

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