I am just wondering if there is any law that prohibits hospitals from restraining their living patients from leaving the hospital if the latter are yet to settle their medical bills. The thing is, my friend was recently hospitalized while she was on vacation with our other friends. Her attending physician allowed her to be discharged after three days in the hospital but the employees would not allow her to leave without paying her bills first. Good thing her father was able to immediately send money and there was a bank near the hospital where our friends were able to withdraw money from. Otherwise, she could have stayed in the hospital for a couple of more days. While I do not hope for this to happen again, I just want to be enlightened. Your advice will be greatly appreciated.
Republic Act (RA) 9439 is the law that prohibits the act of detaining patients in hospitals or medical clinics for failure to settle their hospital bills or medical expenses.
Conditions mentioned under the law, however, must be met in order for provisions of RA 9439 to take effect. Living patients in particular who are financially incapable to settle their bills, whether in part or in full, should not be detained or prevented from leaving the hospital or medical clinic where they have been confined or given medical attention if they have fully or partly recovered and have already signified their desire to leave the hospital or medical clinic. In addition, these patients must have already executed or signified their willingness to execute a promissory note covering their unpaid hospital or medical obligations, and their promissory note is secured by either a mortgage or by a guarantee of a co-maker who will be jointly and severally liable to the patient for the unpaid obligation. Lastly, the patients must have stayed in a non-private room, given that patients who stayed in private rooms are not covered by this law (Section 2, RA 9439). A private room is defined 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” (Part III (K), Implementing Rules and Regulations of RA 9439).
Corollary, a complaint may be filed against the administration or officials of the hospitals or medical clinics who refuse to release patients who have complied with the foregoing conditions. If the liability of these officials is clearly established before the proper courts, they may be penalized with a fine of not less than Twenty thousand pesos but not more than Fifty thousand pesos, or imprisonment of not less than one month, but not more than six months, or both such fine and imprisonment, at the discretion of the court (Section 3, 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.