Hospital and Funerals face 2 years imprisonment for detaining patients or cadavers

Detaining patients or cadavers for non-payment of incurred medical or funeral services will soon be declared as a criminal act.

Rep. Carmelo Lazatin (1st District, Pampanga) filed House Bill 5286 imposing stiffer penalty against owners of hospital, medical clinics and funeral parlors that detain patients or cadavers for failure of relatives to settle their medical bills.

The bill, to be known as the "Expanded Patients Illegal Detention Act of 2011," seeks to amend Republic Act 9439 of 2007. 

Under the bill, any person who prohibits or delays the release of the patient or cadaver for non-payment of incurred hospital bills and other related expenses faces two years of imprisonment and a fine of P200,000 or both, at the discretion of the court.

Lazatin said under the present law, a patient who wishes to leave the hospital but is financially incapable of settling hospital expenses may execute a promissory note secured by either a mortgage or by a guarantee of a co-maker.

"But many of these patients are ordinary employees or indigents who cannot afford to give a promissory note, In many instances they are not allowed to leave the hospitals while the body of a dead person are detained by the medical institutions or the morgues," Lazatin said.

"Almost everyday, we hear of complaints in newspapers, radio and television against hospitals and other medical institutions that detain patients or even cadavers of deceased patients due to unpaid medical bills," Lazatin added.

However, under the bill, patients who stayed in private rooms shall not be covered by the proposed act.

Lazatin said some funeral parlors and morgues are into this practice as well, keeping cadavers to force relatives of the deceased individual to cough up the payment for burial services.

The bill mandates the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS), the Social Security System (SSS) and Philippine Health Insurance Corp (PHILHEALTH) as well as the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) to come up with special programs to help their members who cannot afford to pay medical or funeral bills.

"If the patient is a member of the SSS, GSIS and Philhealth, a promissory note from either of the agencies would suffice. In the case of an indigent patient, a certification and/or guarantee from the DSWD is sufficient," Lazatin said.

In the case of a deceased patient, corresponding death certificate and other documents required for interment and other purposes shall be released by the hospital or any medical institution, funeral parlor or morgues to any of his surviving relatives requesting for the same upon presenting a promissory note from the SSS, GSIS or DSWD.