Senators urge PhilHealth to cover hospital tent fees amid reports of overcharging

Bella Perez-Rubio - Philstar.com
Senators urge PhilHealth to cover hospital tent fees amid reports of overcharging
The National Kidney and Transplant Institute (NKTI) sets up a tent to serve as the receiving area for medical workers to screen possible COVID-19 patients in Quezon City on April 2, 2020.
The STAR / Miguel de Guzman

MANILA, Philippines —Six senators on Saturday asked the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. to swiftly amend its policy on hospital tent coverage following reports that patients were paying P1,000 per hour because the state-run agency would not cover their temporary stay. 

"We appeal to PhilHealth not to ignore the cries of families who have no recourse but to shell out their last money because PhilHealth will not cover patients queuing in the ER or those in temporary tents," Sens. Nancy Binay, Joel Villanueva, Juan Miguel Zubiri, Sonny Angara, Sherwin Gatchalian and Grace Poe said partially in Filipino in a joint statement. 

"Hindi po ito maliit na bagay. Huwag naman po sana maging manhid. (This is no small matter, let's not be numb to it)." 

'Failure to adapt' 

Senators also criticized PhilHealth for failing to adapt to extraordinary situations amid the pandemic. 

"Considering the continued rise in Covid-related cases, PhilHealth cannot claim, as an excuse for its indifference, being drowned by bureaucracy or being choked financially," they said. "As a government corporation, it is its obligation to break the barriers and provide solutions in the midst of a health care coverage crisis." 

Villanueva the previous day said it was "ridiculous" for patients in hospital tents to be excluded from coverage, citing Section 6 of the Universal Healthcare Act which mandates that every Filipino should have access to emergency health services. 

"The patients are in the tent because the emergency room is already overflowing. So it makes no sense to exclude them from coverage from the mere fact that the emergency room is already overcrowded," he said partially in Filipino on Twitter. 

This was echoed by senators on Saturday who said that under the same law "all Filipinos are entitled to PhilHealth benefits and service coverages—including emergency and comprehensive outpatient services." 

"In a pandemic environment, PhilHealth has a social and moral obligation to serve the needs of its members. It plays a major role in implementing the UHC law and its services are crucially important," they added. 

"In these trying times, PhilHealth should be the voice of compassion and care for every patient. It is but tragic that it has been unable to respond and reach out to the already overburden families of patients." 

Issues with overcharging in hospital tents were first bared by Rep. Ferdinand Gaite (Bayan Muna) during a House probe held Tuesday. The lawmaker said one of his colleagues was charged about P140,000 for an overnight stay.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III at the time said the rate of P1,000 per hour — the rate Gaite said one of his colleagues was charged — was "highway robbery." 

PhilHealth to launch probe, review policies 

In a statement posted to social media on Friday night, PhilHealth chief Date Gierran said the agency would investigate reported overcharging in hospital tents "for possible violation of pertinent laws and rules." 

While noting that non-accredit Community Isolation Unit tents are not compensable under existing rules, Gierran said that "Philhealth has been reviewing existing policies to better respond to the extraordinary demands brought about by the pandemic." 

"PhilHealth fully acknowledges the current situation where patients are temporarily placed in tests because hospitals can no longer admit them in hospital beds," he added. 

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