Sen. Panfilo Lacson shifted focus at the Senate plenary deliberation on the Department of Health’s proposed 2022 budget to what he described as the government hospitals’ “humongous off-budget income” even as they still charge patients.
Lacson wondered aloud: “How could government-run hospitals have billions of pesos in off-budget income in the past several years, yet still charge Filipinos who are confined there?”
Interpellating DOH officials, Lacson said the huge amounts could have been used to help defray the expenses of poor patients, especially those who lost their livelihood due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Why would we still charge patients hospitalization fees at a time of pandemic? Should it not be that the amount be used to cushion the suffering of our people who are confined in government hospitals?” he asked.
DOH Secretary Francisco Duque III replied, “Yes, Sir.”
“Should there not be an issue of conscience here? We’re not using the [DOH] budget yet we’re charging patients,” Lacson added, speaking partly in Filipino.
“I think a review of these off-budget accounts is in order so we can help those in need,” he stressed.
Also, Lacson noted, this may indicate that something is wrong with the management of government hospitals. “They are earning income but why is that income not put to good use? That’s my point,” he said.
Lacson cited the Budget Expenditure and Sources of Financing (BESF), where the DOH’s off-budget accounts indicated government hospitals’ retained income for 2021 hospital fees amounted to P448.439 billion.
Duque admitted being “dumbfounded” by the P448-billion figure, and promised to look into it.
“We’ll look into this, and have it reviewed right away,” he added. Philippine Heart Center Executive Director Joel Abanilla said the amounts are “shockingly and ridiculously high.”
Off-Budget Accounts under the BESF reflect Retained Income/Receipts for the DOH from all its ‘retained hospitals’ with the following sources/nature of revenues: hospital fees, drugs and medicines, rent/lease income, seminar/training fees, certification fees, income from hostels/dormitories and other like facilities, income from printing and publication, and other business income. The class/nature of its expenditures only indicated “Augmentation of MOOE and CO.”
Duque later cited a clarification from his office indicating the off-budget account for 2021 amounted to P21.3 billion—and not P448 billion. He explained that the Eastern Visayas Medical Center submitted inaccurate figures that should have read P448 million and not P448 billion. He said the DOH will coordinate with the Department of Budget and Management to have this corrected.
Nonetheless, Duque assured senators the DOH will review the hospital incomes due to the huge amounts involved.
According to Lacson, off-budget accounts amounted to P4.789 billion in 2016, P9.092 billion in 2017, P6.156 billion in 2018, P7.667 billion in 2019, and P8.035 billion in 2020.
“We are among the few countries without zero billing in government hospitals. In countries like Cuba, citizens need not pay for hospitalization if they are confined,” Lacson noted.
“It doesn’t make sense that the DOH does not spend its off-budget accounts, yet is still punishing our patients by billing them, especially during the time of Covid when so many have lost their livelihood. They have to run to senators, congressmen, mayors and governors for help. It’s rather cruel for government hospitals to be charging patients when so much is left in their off-budget accounts,” he added.
Meanwhile, National Kidney Transplant Institute director Rose Marie Rosete-Liquete said their service cases have no balance billing even for Covid cases.