While I was waiting for my turn at the billing section of a hospital in Fairview, Quezon City, I overheard a young couple discussing the contents of what looked like a typewritten note.
“Puwede na siguro ito… sinabi ko naman na babayaran natin pag natanggap na natin ang 13th month pay sa December,” said the guy while going over the white piece of paper.
“Kinakabahan ako baka manghingi pa ng kung ano-anong papeles. Certificate of Employment lang ang dala ko,” the young lady shuffled several sheets of bond paper before sliding all these inside a long brown envelope.
I gave them a friendly nod and a few minutes later, we were already chatting like old friends. It turns out that the guy’s mother was hospitalized due to asthma and hypertension. She was confined for eight days. According to them, the hospital would not discharge the patient unless they complete the payment for their bills, doctor’s fees, and medicines. They have accumulated a total of Php 87,000.00 over the course of eight days. The day I met them at the billing section was actually their 10th day at the hospital as they could not leave until they’ve made payment arrangements.
They were only able to raise Php 37,000. To remedy the situation, they were asked by the hospital to present a promissory note. That was the document they were discussing earlier. In it, they detailed the schedule of payments they will be making for the next two months until they are able to complete the full amount.
This got me thinking about the law that prohibits hospitals from refusing to discharge a patient who has fully recovered from his illness, on the basis that he could not settle his hospital bills in full. I did my research as soon as I got home and found out that there are actually two kinds of laws that protect the rights and welfare of patients.
- Republic Act No. 8344
- The Anti-Hospital Deposit Law
- It states that it is unlawful for any hospital or medical clinic to refuse administering to patients treatment and support that could prevent their death or permanent disability.
- Republic Act No. 9439
- An Act Prohibiting the Detention of Patients in Hospitals and Medical Clinics on Grounds of Non-payment of Hospital Bills or Medical Expenses.”
Based on the couple’s story, R.A. 9439 is a more appropriate reference to their situation.
Was it legal for the hospital to detain the patient even after the doctor has already advised that she has fully recovered from her illness?
Here are the answers based on the details of the said Republic Act and on an article written by a Public Attorney from the Manila Times:
Are patients allowed to execute a promissory note in case they could not make a full or partial payment of their hospital bill?
Yes. Based on Section 2 of the said R.A.:
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 or medical clinic upon the execution of a promissory note covering the unpaid obligation.
Can the patient request for a copy of a medical certificate from the doctor or the hospital even if he is unable to settle the full amount of the hospital bill?
The patient has the right to demand the issuance of the corresponding medical certificate and other pertinent papers required for the release of the patient from the hospital or medical clinic.
How does the promissory note work?
The promissory note shall be secured by either a mortgage or by a guarantee of a co-maker, who will be jointly and severally liable with the patient for the unpaid obligation.
How about if the patient died and the family could not make a full payment of the hospital bill right away? Will the death certificate be released to the family even if they have outstanding obligations at the hospital?
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 surviving relatives requesting for the same.
Does the law cover all types of patients, whether confined in a private or ward room?
No. RA 9439 applies only to charity patients. Therefore, patients who stayed in private rooms shall not be covered by this Act.
Under R.A. 9439, a private room is defined as a single occupancy room or a ward type room divided by either a permanent or semi-permanent partition (except curtains) not to exceed four patients per room who are admitted for diagnosis, treatment and other forms of health care maintenance.
The guy’s mother stayed in a private room for the whole duration of her confinement. And although the provisions of the Act do not apply to her, the hospital cannot prevent her from leaving still. Insisting on having her stay until her family is able to make a payment may result to a case of illegal detention, an entirely different matter that the family may tackle in court.
The hospital was gracious enough to allow them to make a partial payment and execute a promissory note. I lingered until they were done speaking with the hospital staff at the billing section just to find out if their request was accommodated. I was delighted when they told me that they were granted permission to bring their mother home. The hospital accepted the partial payment they made and honored the promissory note they submitted.