SENATOR Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go has vowed to stop the practice by hospitals of refusing the discharge of patients for their inability to settle their hospital expenses.
At the Senate health committee public hearing Senate Bill (SB) No. 166 filed by Senator Risa Hontiveros was taken up. The bill increases the penalties against institutions continuing this practice, along with SB No. 697 of Senator Koko Pimentel which seeks to prohibit the withholding of Muslim cadavers in the custody of any hospital, and mandates the cadavers release within 24 hours from death for burial, in accordance with Islamic belief.
Senator Go lamented that despite a law in place, the practice of detaining patients remains pervasive.
“Marami pa rin lumalapit sa akin na pamilya ng pasyente, humihingi ng tulong dahil ayaw palabasin sa ospital ang kanilang kamag-anak kahit may promissory note na,” Go said.
Republic Act 9439 was enacted in 2007 to address the issue of hospital detention. Under the measure, patients are allowed to leave the hospital or clinic so long as they execute a promissory note covering their unsettled obligation. The measure, however, does not include patients who are confined in private rooms.
Go noted that withholding of Muslim cadavers in the custody of hospitals goes against their religious faith which obliges for the deceased to be buried as soon as possible.
“This has to stop,” Go declared, adding that “detaining a patient makes the problem worse because the patient’s extended stay makes his or her hospital bills to grow even higher.”
While expressing his concern for patients who are illegally detained in hospitals, Go 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’ own financial survival.”
Grilling the Department of Health (DoH) officials, Go asked why the practice remains pervasive.
Dr. Rosendo Sualog, medical specialist of the health department, enumerated 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.
As for the 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.
“Sa Davao, meron pong sasakyan dun naka-assign lang para sa mga Muslim. Within 24 hours, kailangan nailibing na po ‘yung katawan. Ihahatid sa probinsya kaagad. ‘Yun ang problema kapag made-detain ang cadaver. Against po iyon sa paniniwala ng ating mga kapatid na Muslim. Isipin natin kung papaano natin matutulungan ang mga pasyente,” said Go.
“Saan ba pwede silang magsumbong kung unlawfully detained?”, the senator asked.
A representative from the DoH said that families of unlawfully detained patients may go directly to the regional offices of the DoH where personnel are on duty from Mondays to Sundays.
“Pakisigurado na lang po,” Go responded. “‘Yung iba kasi walang access. Nasa malalayong lugar. Especially in Mindanao.”