Gordon warns hospitals against holding 'hostage' patients unable to pay bills

Published October 23, 2021, 11:30 AM

by Mario Casayuran

Senator Richard J. Gordon has reminded private hospitals that it is illegal to hold under ‘’hospital arrests’’ patients who could not pay their hospital bills.

Gordon, chairman of the Philippine Red Cross (PRC), issued the statement after addressing a plea of a London-based Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW) caregiver whose pregnant niece was held under’’arrest’’ for failing to settle her bills after contracting COVID-19.

He assured Filipino caregiver Romeo Mendoza that he has already asked the Department of Health (DOH) in Region III to assist Mendoza’s niece.

“The undersigned is thankful to have quickly established correspondence therewith since it is apparent that your Honorable Office is fully committed to genuine public service, particularly for those who are in most need for help from our country’s health care system – people like Mrs. Angel Sunga,” Mendoza said in his letter.

Gordon, during his pre-taped interview with “Juan EU Konek” last Oct. 15, was responding to Mendoza’s appeal on behalf of her niece who was placed in “hospital arrest” due to her failure to pay a balance of PhP650,000 from her medical bills.

Sunga, who had been an expecting mother, tested positive for COVID-19 before giving birth and was turned away from a public hospital due to its full bed capacity. She was forced to be confined at the Holy Trinity Hospital in Arayat, Pampanga, where she successfully gave birth.

Due to her financial difficulty during this pandemic, however, she was only able to raise over P100,000 through the efforts of her caring relatives, even seeking assistance from their UK-based relative.

As Sunga was unable to fork out the full amount of P750,000, the mother was barred from being discharged by Holy Trinity, while the baby could go home.

Gordon pointed out that any form of hospital arrest is prohibited under Republic Act 9439 and such practice may have been going on unchecked in some private hospitals because some may not be aware of the 14-year-old law.

Unang-una, walang hospital arrest. Bawal ‘yan (In the first place, there is no hospital arrest. That is illegal). That is deprivation of liberty without due process of law especially in this case that it is a humanitarian problem,” he told Mendoza during a pre-taped interview, which was aired last Oct. 17.

‘’It’s a game of intimidation, especially if the person doesn’t know her rights as it is obvious in this case,” he lamented.

Gordon said he hopes that this kind of problem does not happen again as patients battling COVID-19 with limited financial capability have the option of writing a promissory note to pay the bill in small increments.

Under the present law, it is illegal for any hospital or medical clinic to detain patients who have fully or partially recovered for failure to pay in part or full their hospital bills or medical expenses.

A patient who is financially incapable to settle hospital bills or medical expenses in part or in full is allowed to leave the hospital or medical clinic and demand for corresponding medical certificate upon execution of a promissory note.

Such 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.

Those found violating the law may be fined of not less than P20,000, but not more than P50,000, or a jail term of not less than one month, but not more than six months, or both such fine and imprisonment, at the discretion of the proper court.