LONDON - Filipino caregiver in England Romeo Mendoza had exhausted all means to help his niece with a gargantuan hospital bills recently.
Being the only relative abroad, he was burdened to produce over half a million pesos to help his family in the Philippines.
His pregnant niece, Angel Sunga, has been held in a private hospital in Arayat, Pampanga for failing to settle her bills after contracting COVID-19. Mendoza’s niece was placed in “hospital arrest” due to her failure to pay a balance of P650,000 from her medical bills. While in the hospital, her bill continued to pile up.
Mendoza could only do so much. So he reached out to various groups, government agencies and officials for weeks.
He an opportunity to speak with Senator Richard Gordon, during his interview with Europe-based digital public service program “Juan Eu Konek” last Oct. 17.
Gordon, who also chairs the Philippine Red Cross, has extended immediate assistance to Mendoza. He assured the Filipino caregiver that he has already asked the Department of Health (DOH) in Region III to assist his 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,” he said in his letter.
Sunga 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 a private hospital in Arayat, Pampanga, where she gave birth.
Due to her financial difficulty during the pandemic, however, she was only able to raise over P100,000 through the efforts of her relatives.
As Sunga was unable to fork out the full amount of P750,000, the mother was barred from being discharged by the hospital, while the baby could go home.
Gordon said 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. That is deprivation of liberty without due process of law especially in this case that it is a humanitarian problem,” he told Mendoza during their chat on Juan Eu Konek.
(First of all there is no hospital arrest. That’s prohibited.)
“It's a game of intimidation, especially if the person doesn't know her rights as it is obvious in this case. Kakayanin siya. Hindi kita palalabasin hangga't di ka nagbabayad,” he lamented.
(They will not let you out until you pay.)
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.
“Hindi puwedeng mangyari ito sa ordinaryong Pilipino na pinagsasamantalahan ng ospital at mistulang kidnap-for-ransom. Mabuti na lang at may nakatulong sa kanila. Salamat sa teknolohiya,” he added.
(This cannot happen to ordinary Filipinos who are being abused by hospitals and this seems like kidnap-for-ransom. Thankfully they received help. Thanks to technology.)
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.
Due to the intervention, Sunga has been released from the hospital and was reunited with her newborn baby.
“Maraming salamat po. Hindi namin ito kayang bayaran. Mabuti na lang nandyan ang Philippine Red Cross at si Senator Gordon,” Mendoza told ABS-CBN News.