Distressing medical costs in PH

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By Susan Palmes-Dennis

Straight from Carolinas

Sunday, August 10, 2014


THE Ebola virus is making headlines across the world and while I'm worried about it, reading the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro story about the regional Department of Health (DOH-Northern Mindanao) being worried more on dengue than Ebola reaching northern Mindanao is correct.

We have our own menace in Cagayan de Oro that's reached Ebola virus like proportions (more so) and it's not Ebola, but dengue.

I can only pray that the experimental vaccine injected on the two Americans who came home because they contracted the Ebola virus would work. But that's not my focus now.

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My topic is still related to health, but it is all about financial costs of being sick in the Philippines especially if one has dengue and it hits home more than the Ebola virus.

Two weeks ago my husband Ron had his gall bladder removed. We stayed at the hospital for five days not because of the surgery because it is simple, but due to complications.

His medical issues are huge, but no worries about it because he is a hypochondriac. But the anxiety, I felt over his stay in the hospital is the same as the time he had heart surgery three years ago.

On the day that he was discharged we were given a packet of discharge instructions. The instructions detail the procedure, medications to take and also a reminder on a follow up visit to the doctors.

It also says about the home care procedure and when to call the doctor complete with the numbers and emails. The packet helps the patients to navigate outside the hospital and the recovery following the procedure.

All the patients have to do is to take care of himself/herself. No worries about anything. This is not the scenario for outgoing patients in the country of my birth.

I am not talking about the rich people, I'm talking about people like me and my family who continue to worry about medical costs despite (especially because of) Philhealth insurance (costs).

In the Philippines, there are very few patients who are happy after being discharged. Most think about the debts/mortgage or debts to politicians who might have written hospitals for a discount or if one is lucky gave money to the family.

In fact there were stories before of patients who couldn't be discharged unless titles to sewing machines/TV/refrigerator/ laptop and even lands are brought to the hospital.

Or in worse cases where patients are detained until payment or down payment are being made. A lot of Philippine hospitals would deny this, but you never lack people who will testify otherwise.

I have nothing against the private hospitals; they are also businesses and they need to earn profits to continue to operate. I don't believe that hospitals run on charity alone. But it's draining for families to think about where to get the money to pay the hospital bills. The patients themselves end up being a lot sicker than when they were admitted in the first place.

That's not what we want for our sick. That's why I came upon stories of patients who would rather not go to the hospital because they would know the costs of going there despite their Philhealth coverage.

Philhealth coverage ensures free payment if the patient only suffers from “flu” or “kalibanga” (diarrhea or constipation) but if it's a severe illness that has names too complicated to pronounce in street lingo, then sorry but the buck stops there.

Major illnesses include dengue and God forbid, Ebola virus. In the US, particularly in Charlotte, North Carolina payment will be covered by private insurance firms or Medicare or Medicaid and if there are any excess charges, these will be charged later.

A little Google search and I came across this online definition of Medicare which “is a government health insurance plan for people 65 or older, people under 65 with certain disabilities, and people with end-stage renal disease.

It helps to pay for care in hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, hospice care, and some home health care. Medicare coverage can also include doctors’ services and prescription drugs.

Under the health care law, Medicare benefits have been expanded for preventive care and drug coverage. Covered services usually include doctor visits, hospital care, vaccinations, prescription drugs, vision, hearing, long-term care, and preventive care for children.”

It's true that there are citizens that don't have insurance, but patients are not denied hospitalization. The government can then ask the private sector for help.

This isn't to compare US health care with Philippine health care but to illustrate I dream of a time when health care in my country of birth would improve so much that it doesn't leave any patient behind.

I dream of the day when Filipino patients go to the hospital and not worry about bills and thus being healed of both their physical and financial distress.

I can only dream that the Philippine leaders won't isolate themselves in their air-conditioned rooms and content themselves with the thought that they have done enough by registering their constituents under Philhealth.

That's still a dream, but I have every right to continue dreaming about it.

Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on August 11, 2014.

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