MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/18 July) — On July 12, Susan Enad, a resident of Lantapan town, Bukidnon packed her things and prepared to leave what had become her temporary home, the Bukidnon Provincial Medical Center.
If she had her way, Enad would have chosen to go home right after her child who was admitted there had recuperated from an illness. But hospital officials would not let her leave simply because she failed to settle her accounts.
As of June 30, at least 40 other patients had been “detained” for months too for failing to pay their bills.
Enad said some of them have been held for five months for bills amounting to as much as P100,000.
But starting July 1, and after the issue became media fare in Malaybalay, the hospital has suspended the policy and started releasing indigent patients.
Enad said the patients’ families call the decision of the hospital administration to release them as “parole”
The “parole” came after Gov. Alex Calingasan said that his administration will not take part in holding patients in the province’s most modern hospital just because they are unable to pay their bills.
Nurses who declined to be quoted said patients who have been held for at least a month were allowed to go home.
”They were allowed to leave after paying down payment and committing to settle their accounts on monthly installment basis to cover the balance,” a source said.
Opened last year and touted as Bukidnon’s premier hospital, the BPMC drew public criticism when its policy to hold patients even if they were already declared fit to be discharged because of their unsettled accounts was reported by local media.
Detaining patients who are unable to settle accounts is illegal.
Then President Arroyo signed into law Republic Act 9439 in April 2007, which prohibits the detention of patients in hospitals and medical clinics on grounds of non-payment of hospital bills or medical expenses.
RA 9439 provides that any officer or employee of medical institutions who violates the law faces an imprisonment of six months and a fine of as high as P50,000.
“Patients who have fully or partially recovered and who already wish to leave the hospital or medical clinic but are financially incapable to settle, in part or in full, their hospitalization expenses including professional fees and medicines, shall be allowed to leave the hospital, with a right to demand issuance of the corresponding medical certificate and other pertinent papers required for the release of the patient from the hospital upon the execution of a promissory note covering the unpaid obligation,” the law further says.
A promissory note could be secured by either a mortgage or by a guarantee of a co-maker, who would be jointly liable with the patient’s unpaid medical bill.
In the case of a deceased patient, “the corresponding death certificate and other documents required for interment and other purposes shall be released to any of his or her relatives.”
Then governor Jose Ma. R. Zubiri Jr. implemented the policy of encouraging poor people to enlist to the PhilHealth Indigency Health Program of the province.
Zubiri was quoted in the provincial government’s website as saying effective governance is not only about providing for the basic needs of the province’s constituents but also ensuring that health care services are available, affordable, efficient and more importantly, accessible to those who need it.
“Innovative approaches to achieve these goals are put into effect such as, the putting up of Provincial Health Stations, the construction of three major referral hospitals and massive registration of identified indigents,” he said.
Calingasan vowed in a MindaNews interview to reverse the policy. On June 29, or a day after taking oath, he said he will allow the patients to pay in kind, in installment, and even by rendering labor services to the hospital.
MindaNews tried to get official statements from the hospital administration on July 16 but the administrator was on leave. Hospital director Sulpicio Henry Legaspi was around but was not available for comment. (Walter I. Balane/MindaNews)