Senators Risa Hontiveros and Christopher Go gave the warning at the hearing of the Senate committee on health on Monday, when the panel took up measures seeking to penalize various hospital practices in dealing with poor patients and Muslim cadavers.
Ernie Peñaredondo
Hospitals face penalties for refusing to release indigent patients
Paolo Romero (The Philippine Star) - October 16, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Senators warned hospitals of penalties to be imposed against them for “detaining” or refusing to discharge patients from confinement for their inability to settle hospital expenses.

Senators Risa Hontiveros and Christopher Go gave the warning at the hearing of the Senate committee on health on Monday, when the panel took up measures seeking to penalize various hospital practices in dealing with poor patients and Muslim cadavers.

The committee, chaired by Go, deliberated on Senate Bill 166 filed by Hontiveros that seeks to increase the penalties against medical institutions continuing the practice, and SB 697 of Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III, who pushed to prohibit the withholding of Muslim cadavers in the custody of any hospital and mandates their release within 24 hours from death for burial in accordance with Islamic belief.

Go lamented that despite a law in place, the practice of detaining patients remains pervasive. 

“Until now, many families of patients come to me seeking help because hospitals refuse to discharge their loved ones even if they’ve already issued promissory notes,” he said.

Republic Act 9439 was enacted in 2007 to address the issue of hospital detention. Under the law, patients are allowed to leave the hospital or clinic so long as they execute a promissory note covering their unsettled obligation. The law, however, excludes patients who are confined in private rooms.  

“This has to stop,” Go said, adding that “detaining a patient makes the problem worse because the patient’s extended stay makes his or her hospital bills grow even higher.”

The senator also noted that withholding Muslim cadavers in the custody of hospitals goes against their religious faith, which requires the deceased to be buried as soon as possible.

While expressing his concern for patients who are illegally detained in hospitals, he acknowledged that hospitals also need to be protected from abusive patients, saying that “we need to incorporate safeguards that would prevent patients from abusing the law at the expense of the hospitals’ financial survival.” 

Dr. Rosendo Sualog of the Department of Health (DOH) told the committee some of the reasons for the persistence of the illegal practice.  

“The law does not cover patients who stay in private rooms, and there are patients unable to pay bills for the private room. There are also those who do not cooperate, such as when they fail to execute a promissory note. Some misinterpret the law,” Sualog said.  

Under Hontiveros’ bill, hospital administrators face up to six years imprisonment and P1-million fine for detaining patients and cadavers due to financial incapacity. The measure can also revoke the licenses of erring hospitals. 

Hontiveros said her bill also seeks to establish an Anti-Hospital Detention Fund to support the payment of indigent patients and allow unpaid patients to use guarantees from the Social Security System, Government Service Insurance System or the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. instead of an actual mortgage or guaranty currently required by law.  

“While we understand that costs of hospitals must be covered for continued operations, the rights and liberty of patients are non-negotiable. This is the balance that this bill seeks to achieve,” she said. 

As for the case of deceased Muslims, Go recounted his experience in Davao City where a vehicle is assigned to transfer cadavers to their homes so they can be buried as soon as possible. 

A representative from the DOH said that families of unlawfully detained patients may go directly to their regional offices where personnel are on duty from Mondays to Sundays.

CHRISTOPHER GO HOSPITALS RISA HONTIVEROS
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