Bill seeks stiffer fines vs. hospitals that detain patients, deceased

MANILA - To put a stop to the practice of detaining patients and the deceased who fail to settle their hospital bills, hospital administrators may soon face a fine of PHP1 million and imprisonment of up to six years if Senate Bill No. 1937 is approved.

The measure, authored by Senator Risa Hontiveros, seeks to strengthen Republic Act No. 9439 or the Anti-Hospital Detention Law and to provide full protection to patients or the loved ones of the deceased by making it unlawful for hospitals, clinics and other similar facilities to detain partially or fully-recovered patients due to the inability to pay their medical bills.

The bill also has a provision to impose the same penalty for withholding the release of bodies of deceased loved ones.

Hontiveros, Vice-chair of the Senate Committee on Health, said she filed the bill as a response to numerous reports of patients and cadavers not being discharged by hospitals because of their inability to fully or partially pay for their medical expenses.

"Hospitals should be places where people suffering from various ailments find ample medical treatment and care in the hands of doctors, nurses and other health professionals. Hospitals must not be seen as prisons depriving patients of their liberty in the event that they have difficulty settling their medical bills," Hontiveros said in news release issued Wednesday.

In the measure, a promissory note and a guarantee letter from the Social Security System (SSS), Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) or the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) can be presented in lieu of a mortgage or guarantee by a co-maker.

It also provides that if the patient is or the deceased loved one was an indigent, a guarantee letter from the Department of Social and Welfare Development (DSWD) will suffice.

"The Strengthened Anti-Hospital Detention Bill offers additional mechanisms and support for patients to guarantee their obligations to health providers", Hontiveros said.

"This proposal will also increase fines penalties for abusive hospitals, clinics and similar facilities and expands coverage to patients admitted in private rooms," she added.

Hontiveros said an Anti-Hospital Detention Fund to support indigent patients will also be established once the bill is approved into law.

She said the fund is a mechanism for the government to help poor patients trapped by medical expenses. An initial PHP1 million will be given to the health department to partly cover unpaid promissory notes issued by indigent patients.

Hontiveros also warned that under her measure, abusive hospitals, clinics and administrators may get their license to operate revoked for repeated violations.

"While I believe that the majority of our hospitals are committed to maintaining their ethical responsibilities to the public, we must not relent against the abusive. I believe that there is a way to balance patient rights and the right to be compensated in business. However, in the final analysis, healthcare is first and foremost a social service. The Filipino people's health is our top priority," she said. (Senate PR)

Source: Philippine News Agency