City Councilor Peter Maristela has appealed to the management of different private hospitals in Puerto Princesa City to refrain from charging interest on unpaid hospital bills of patients.
“I’ve learned that hospitals are additionally charging interest per month on unpaid bills of patients,” Maristela said in his privilege speech Monday, November 13.
This interest, he said, ranges from 2% or more, imposed on top of the patients’ penalty when they failed to settle their obligation on the agreed date.
Consequently, Maristela added that poor patients who can’t settle their bills due to financial difficulties are sometimes barred from leaving the hospital.
“In my two terms as councilor, what touches my heart most was when the patients or their relatives ask for financial assistance just so they can leave the hospital,” he said in Filipino.
He noted cases where the kin of patients who had died could not retrieve the body of their relative because they could not get a death certificate from the hospital needed to bury their dead.
Maristela said private hospitals are among institutions enjoying tax exemption because they primarily exist as “service-oriented, not profit-oriented” entity.
Not discharging the underprivileged patients due to unpaid hospital bills is unjust, he said. “Is it reasonable to hold them for failing to pay the hospital? The answer is no.”
Maristela cited Republic Act 9439 that prohibits “the detention of patients who have fully or partially recovered or have been adequately attended to or who may have died” in hospitals and medical clinics on grounds of “nonpayment in part or in full of hospital bills or medical expenses.”
Any hospital employee responsible for releasing patients and violates this law will face a fine of P20,000 to P50,000, or imprisonment of one to six months, or both at the court’s discretion.
Maristela, however, thanked private hospitals that discharge patients after asking them to sign a promissory note covering their unpaid obligation.
“But please don’t make the process of getting this promissory note complicated and lengthy to the point that poor patients need to pass through the needle’s eye just to avail this provision of that law,” he said. “Because the longer the financially depressed patients stay at the hospital, their bills are ballooning.”
Under R.A. 9439, a patient can secure a promissory note “by either a mortgage” in a form of turning over their land title and private vehicles to the hospital management or “by a guarantee of a co-maker, who will be jointly and severally liable with the patient” for the unpaid bills.
Along with his privilege speech, the councilor also filed a resolution addressed to the management of different hospitals within the city.
He filed the same legislation requesting the Senate and Congress to pass a law prohibiting hospitals to impose interest on unpaid hospital bills of patients.
In separate resolutions, he also directs the City Legal Office to give legal assistance to indigent patients who are deprived of their rights under R.A. 9439, and asks the City Social Welfare and Development to provide financial aid to patients who were not released from the hospital due to their unpaid bills.
This is not the first time Maristela made such an appeal. In 2014, he urged the management of different hospitals and the Palawan Medical Society to implement strictly the provisions of R.A. 9439.