Press Release
February 24, 2019

Hontiveros: Hospitals face stiffer penalties for detaining patients who cannot pay their medical bills

Senator Risa Hontiveros has filed a bill seeking to increase the penalties against hospitals, medical clinics and other similar facilities that detain and hold patients and cadavers on the grounds of nonpayment of hospital bills and medical expenses.

Hontiveros, chairperson of the Senate Committee on Women, Children, Family Relations and Gender Equality, said the passage of Senate Bill No. 1937 into law would strengthen Republic Act 9439 by increasing the penalties against erring medical institutions that continue to violate the law.

She said the bill also seeks to expand the coverage to include patients admitted in private rooms.

Under the current law, patients who have partially recovered and who wish to leave the hospital or clinic but are financially incapable to settle their hospitalization expenses are allowed to leave the hospital or clinic by executing a promissory note covering the unpaid obligation. The promissory note is secured by a mortgage or guarantee of a co-maker who will be jointly and severally liable with the patient for the unpaid obligation. However, the law does not cover patients who are admitted in private rooms.

The law also prohibits hospitals and clinics to withhold the issuance of medical certificate and other pertinent papers required for the release of the patient from the hospital or clinic upon the execution of a promissory note.

Hontiveros said patients who are members of either the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth), Social Security System (SSS) and the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) may secure a guarantee letter from any of these agencies in lieu of a mortgage or guarantee from a co-maker under the proposed legislation.

Indigent patients may secure a guarantee letter from the Department of Social Welfare and Development, Hontiveros said.

Hontiveros said SBN 1937 also seeks to establish an anti-hospital detention fund to partly cover unpaid promissory notes issued by poor and indigent patients.

She said the fund, which will serve as a buffer system, would have an allocation of P100 million to be managed by the Department of Health.

Under the measure, any officer or employee of the hospital or medical clinic responsible for releasing patients who violates the provisions of the act will be slapped with not less than six months and one day but not more than two years and four months or a fine of not less than P100,000 but not more than P300,000 or both at the discretion of the court.

The current law only penalizes violators with not less than P20,000 but not more than P50,000 or imprisonment of not less than one month but not more than six months or both at the discretion of the court.

Hospital directors and officers face stiffer penalties for violating the act and face four to six years imprisonment or a fine of not less than P100,000 but not more than P500,000 for officers and not less than P500,000 but not more than P1 million for directors or both at the discretion of the court.

Hontiveros said the DOH would revoke the hospital or clinic's license after three repeated violations of the act.

"It has been 11 years since the implementation of RA 9439 but there are still reports of patients who are not discharged if they are unable to settle their hospital bills. There are still stories of families not being able to get the bodies of their deceased loved ones. Often, it is poor Filipino families who are victimized by this practice," Hontiveros said.

She said the passage of SBN 1937 into law would strengthen the current law and give it more teeth to penalize violators.

She added that with the passage of the Republic Act No. 11223, otherwise known as the Universal Health Care Law, there will be better funding for health services through the National Health Insurance Program and she is hopeful that non-payment of hospital bills will be a thing of the past."

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