I am writing in behalf of my friend. She wants to know if Republic Act (RA) 9439 really does not cover those patients who are confined in private rooms. Her problem stemmed when her husband was brought to the hospital. He was attended to at the emergency room but was advised to be confined for further treatment. Unfortunately, my friend was told that there were no vacancies in the ward, and she was offered the private room instead. She was told that they can wait for availability in the ward but they could not be guaranteed as to when there will be a slot since a lot of other patients are waiting ahead of them. My friend was also given the option to transfer her husband to a nearby public hospital but she opted to just take this hospital’s private room considering it was already late at night. She was able to pay a portion of the hospital bill and still has a balance of around P12,000.00. My friend asked if they can go home already since the doctors gave the greenlight to her husband’s discharge but the hospital personnel told her that she needs to settle the bill first before her husband can be discharged since he stayed in a private room. Is this correct? Isn’t this a form of hospital detention under RA 9439? Now they had to obtain a loan from a lending company just to process his discharge. Please advise.
Pursuant to Republic Act (RA) 9439, it is unlawful for hospitals or medical clinics to restrain their patients from leaving the hospital premises for the sole reason of the latter’s failure to settle their hospital bills or medical expenses, if the following conditions are present: (1) The concerned patients have fully or partly recovered or have been adequately attended to or may have died; (2) They (or their representative, in case of patients who may have died) have already signified intent to leave the hospital or medical clinic; (3) They are financially incapable to settle, in part or in full, their hospitalization expenses, including professional fees and medicines but they have executed a promissory note, which covers the unpaid obligation; (4) Such promissory note is 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; and (5) They have stayed in a non-private room. (Sections 1 and 2, Id.)
In the situation that you have presented, it is undisputed that your friend’s husband has been declared by his attending physicians ready for discharge and they have already signified their intent to leave the hospital despite the fact that they still have an outstanding balance of P12,000.00. It is not clearly shown, however, whether your friend and/or her husband has executed the necessary promissory note. Given that your friend is yet to establish compliance with the particular condition set under RA 9439, we believe that it is rather premature to say that the hospital has committed a violation thereof of RA 9439.
And even assuming that they have executed the necessary promissory note, another impediment is the fact that, as mentioned in your letter, he stayed in a private room. We would like to reiterate that, as stated under the law, “x x x patients who stayed in private rooms shall not be covered by this Act.” (Section 2, Id.)
Accordingly, if he stayed in a room that accommodates patients not exceeding four (4) in number, then the matter is not governed by RA 9439 because the term “private room” has been defined under Part III (K), Implementing Rules and Regulations of RA 9439 as “x x x a single occupancy room or a ward-type room divided by either a permanent or semi-permanent partition (except curtains) not to exceed 4 patients per room who are admitted for diagnosis, treatment and other forms of health care maintenance. x x x” Conversely, if the room where he stayed actually accommodates more than four (4) patients with similar diagnosis and/or treatment, then there is a violation of the law, in which case, they may institute complaint against the administration or officials of the hospital for violation of the provisions of RA 9439.
We hope that we were able to answer your queries. Please be reminded that this advice is based solely on the facts you have narrated and our appreciation of the same. Our opinion may vary when other facts are changed or elaborated.
Editor’s note: Dear PAO is a daily column of the Public Attorney’s Office. Questions for Chief Acosta may be sent to email@example.com