My mother-in-law has been in the hospital for three weeks and the doctor already gave a go signal that she can go home. However, we are unable to pay the hospital bill in full and the hospital won’t let us leave. Is it legal to detain a patient even if he/she has already recovered? Please guide us.
To curb the practice of some hospitals in detaining their patients or preventing them from leaving the hospital premises for their failure to pay their hospital bills, Republic Act (R.A.) No. 9439, entitled “An Act Prohibiting the Detention of Patients in Hospitals and Medical Clinics on Grounds of Non-payment of Hospital Bills or Medical Expenses,” came into being. From the title itself, this law is aimed at discouraging hospitals and preventing them from detaining their patients just because they failed to settle their hospital bills.
The law declares illegal the detention of patients who have fully or partially recovered or have been adequately attended to or who may have died for reasons of non-payment in part or in full of hospital bills or medical expenses (Section 1, R.A. No. 9439).
According to the said law, a patient who wishes to leave the hospital but is incapable of paying in full his/her hospital bills shall be allowed to leave by the hospital provided that he/she shall execute a promissory note for the unsettled or unpaid bills. This is particularly provided under Section 2 thereof, which provides:
SEC. 2. 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, with a 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 upon the execution of a promissory note covering the unpaid obligation. 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. 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: Provided, however, That patients who stayed in private rooms shall not be covered by this Act.
As defined, a private room is 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 (Implementing Rules and Regulations of R. A. No. 9439).
Applying the foregoing to your mother-in law’s situation, since you failed to mention in your letter what type of room she occupied, assuming that it was not a private room, the above provisions, therefore, apply to her. On the other hand, if it was a private room as defined above, the aforementioned law is not applicable. But still, the hospital cannot prevent her from leaving, as this will give rise to illegal detention. In such a case, a Petition for Habeas Corpus may be filed in court to compel the hospital to produce the person of your mother-in-law in court and justify her continued stay in their premises. Otherwise, the court will order the discharge or release of your mother-in-law. Section 1, Rule 102 of the Rules of Court of the Philippines provides:
“Sec. 1. To what habeas corpus extends.—Except as otherwise expressly provided by law, the writ of habeas corpus shall extend to all cases of illegal confinement or detention by which any person is deprived of his liberty, or by which the rightful custody of any person is withheld from the person entitled thereto.”
A criminal complaint for illegal detention against the hospital personnel/officials for your mother-in law’s continued detention in the hospital may likewise be filed.
Again, we find it necessary to mention that this opinion is solely based on the facts you have narrated and our appreciation of the same. The opinion may vary when the facts are changed or elaborated.
We hope that we were able to enlighten you on the matter.
Editor’s note: Dear PAO is a daily column of the Public Attorney’s Office. Questions for Chief Acosta may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org