Bleak future for hospital sector

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    ‘Because of the dreadful fear of the pandemic, there are only a few patients going to non-COVID-19 facilities because they are scared of getting the virus. ’

    AT a time when we should be strengthening our healthcare system comes this news that more than 300 small private hospitals are in danger of closing down. This piece of information is true, coming as it is from the Private Hospitals Association of the Philippines Inc. (PHAPi).

    Rustico Jimenez, president of the 744-member PHAPi, revealed the sad news that some members, especially those in the provinces, have already partially stopped operations, with only the emergency rooms still open.

    Jimenez told an interviewer from a national TV network that “among our members, about 50 percent are about to close.”

    The association confirmed that these small hospitals have been victims of a double whammy: the impact of the coronavirus disease 2019 or COVID-19 pandemic and the failure of the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) to release insurance claims and reimbursements.

    Because of the dreadful fear of the pandemic, there are only a few patients going to non-COVID-19 facilities because they are scared of getting the virus. Patients who would have been scheduled for surgery during the last two months would rather wait for three to four months, when the hysteria and the virus-related social chaos would have subsided. With the regular patients of physicians shying away from clinics that are housed inside private hospitals, these clinics were temporarily closed and the hospitals’ rent income suffered.

    The financial problems of these hospitals were compounded with the slow rate of payments or reimbursements from PhilHealth. Jimenez said only 46 percent of their members have so far received the payment that PhilHealth said it had advanced. He added that among the member-hospitals that have yet to receive payments from PhilHealth are those in Lanao, Iloilo, Bulacan, and Batangas, including those affected by the eruption of Taal Volcano in January.

    Some of these problems had been with the health sector long before the coronavirus attacked the country, yet it took the pandemic to remind our officials of the emergency nature of these problems.

    Perhaps this time, the government will be able to do something to really strengthen our health care system, of which the private hospitals are an important cog.

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