The US State Department said it had “raised this issue with the Kuwaiti government and is working to find a resolution.” Image Credit: Gulf News archive

Kuwait City: Around 45 medical centres in the United States have claimed that the Kuwaiti government owes them a total of $677 million in unpaid medical bills, the Washington Post reported.

The medical bills are for treatment received by thousands of cancer, heart and paediatric patients from Kuwait.

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The medical centres came together to seek overdue payment. In July, the medical centres approached a Massachusetts Congressman, Rep. Jim McGovern, after they were unsuccessful in retrieving the funds with the help of the State Department earlier in June.

The US State Department said it had “raised this issue with the Kuwaiti government and is working to find a resolution.”

Massachusetts hospitals, like Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), make up a quarter of the total amount owed by the Kuwaiti government. This is not the first time US hospitals have requested overdue payments for Kuwaiti patients.

Back in February 2019, the Anderson Cancer Centres in Houston, one of the hospitals requesting payment, refused to receive Kuwaiti patients as it was awaiting overdue payments from the Ministry of Health.

In October 2018, around $450 million was requested by US hospitals for medical treatment received by Kuwaiti citizens, Al Jarida reported. The report revealed that the sum was for treatments conducted between January 2017 and September 2018.

The government pays for patients to receive treatment abroad on two conditions: they are a Kuwaiti citizen and the treatment is not available in Kuwait. Majority of the patients seek treatment in the United States, United Kingdom and Germany.

According to the report by the Washington Post, Kuwaitis made up the fourth-largest number of adult patients in the United States, after Canada. China and Mexico.

Although many Kuwaitis used to receive treatment in Germany as well, in 2018 the Ministry of Health decided to stop sending Kuwaiti patients to Germany, Al Rai reported.

In the past, the Kuwaiti government has requested, multiple times, from the National Assembly to increase its budget in order to pay overseas hospital bills. In 2016, a $1-billion-dollar budget was approved to pay overdue treatment bills.

Treatment abroad

Due to the economic hardship of COVID-19, last month, the cabinet of ministers approved a financial reform plan, which included a 50 per cent cut in the number of citizens receiving medical treatment abroad.

The Kuwaiti government pays for its citizens to receive medical treatment abroad. The family accompanying the patient is covered for as well and receives a monthly stipend.

Recently, the Ministry of Health managed to recover 7.5 million Kuwaiti dinars from patients after they have received medical treatment abroad, Al Qabas reported. The funds were recovered within 5 years.