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Non-payment of hospital bill no reason to detain patient - The Manila Times Online 13/11/2017, 1)09 PM

Non-payment of hospital bill no

reason to detain patient
The Manila Times April 6, 2016

Dear PAO,
My wife is currently confined in the hospital but the doctor
already told me that she will be ready for discharge in the next
couple of days. I am afraid, however, that I may not be able to
Persida Acosta take my wife out of the hospital because a staff told us that I have
to pay her medical bill before they allow her to leave, and sadly, I
have no means to settle it. May I know what I can do if the hospital will really
refuse to allow my wife to leave?

Dear Armin,
It is beyond question that a hospital has the right to demand payment from its
patients for the hospital expenses incurred for the latter’s treatment and collect
whatever is due it. Nevertheless, the patient has a separate and independent
right to leave the hospital premises, which cannot be defeated by the mere fact
that he failed to pay his hospital bill. Should a hospital insist on disallowing the
release of a patient due to non-payment of bill, the patient or his family may file
appropriate actions in court.

In the case of Manila Doctors Hospital vs. Chua (G.R. No. 150355, July 31,
2006), the Supreme Court made a clear pronouncement that a hospital cannot
detain a patient for non-payment of the hospital bill. It held that detention of a
patient is permitted only when certain circumstances are present such as if the
patient is a detained or convicted prisoner, is suffering from a very contagious
disease or mentally ill such that his release will endanger public health and
safety, or in other exigent cases as may be provided by law. A momentary delay
in allowing the patient to leave the hospital is also permitted if he refuses to
comply with some reasonable conditions.

Absent any of the exceptional circumstances, if the patient is prevented from

leaving the hospital for his inability to pay the bill, any person who can act on his
behalf can apply in court for the issuance of the writ of habeas corpus (Ibid.)
Habeas corpus is a special proceeding available to all cases of illegal
confinement or detention by which any person is deprived of his liberty, or by

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Non-payment of hospital bill no reason to detain patient - The Manila Times Online 13/11/2017, 1)09 PM

which the rightful custody of any person is withheld from the person entitled
thereto (Sec.1, Rule 102, Rules of Court). It is a speedy and effectual remedy to
relieve persons from unlawful restraint and the best and only sufficient defense
of personal freedom (Velasco vs. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 118644 July 7,

In addition, a patient may also consider filing a criminal charge for illegal
detention under Article 267 or 268 of the Revised Penal Code depending on the
surrounding circumstances of the case and provided all the elements of the
crime can be sufficiently established.

If the patient did not stay in a private room, he may also file a criminal case for
violation of Republic Act (RA) 9436, or the Anti-Detention in Hospital Act
against the officers or employees of the hospital or medical clinic responsible for
releasing patients. This law guarantees the right of a patient 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 and imposes a corresponding penalty of
imprisonment and/or fine against concerned officers of the hospital who violate
the law. Take note, however, that the law does not apply if the patient stayed in a
private room. (Sections 2 & 3, Ibid.)

Based on the foregoing, you may file a petition for issuance of a writ of habeas
corpus against the hospital should its administrators and officers refuse to
release your wife, because of non-payment of the hospital bill. You may also
consider filing criminal charges against the concerned officials and employees of
the hospital depending on the specific circumstances of your case.

We hope we were able to sufficiently address your concern. Please bear in mind
that our opinion is based on the facts you narrated and our appreciation of the
same. Our opinion may vary if 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 dearpao@manilatimes.net

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