POSTSCRIPT / September 22, 2009 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Who’ll protect patients from wolves in hospitals?

AVARICE: The way the association of private hospitals has been insisting on raising their already exorbitant fees, one shudders at the thought that it seems even the government cannot stop the gouging of the sick and the dying.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque should make good his threat to scrutinize their financial statements and expose the avarice — and the tax evasion — of many hospitals and doctors. (See Postscript of Sept. 17)

Dr. Rustico Jimenez, president of the Private Hospitals Association of the Philippines, has been saying that they have to raise fees to recoup losses from their selling 21 essential medicines at half price as ordered by law since Sept. 15.

In the same way that that law sets the ceiling price of some medicines, there ought to be a companion law regulating hospital rates.

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EXCUSE: Reader Rage Castle, who works for one of the companies mandated to lower prices under the Cheaper Medicines Law, says:

“The Health Secretary is right in saying that the claim of hospital owners of losing money because of the price reduction is outright ridiculous. All pharmaceutical firms shouldered the 50-percent reduction through cash rebates or the issuance of free goods. Before the price reduction, pharma companies were already doing inventories of their affected products in drugstores and hospital pharmacies. So there is no valid reason why hospitals would lose money and increase the prices of their services.

“The prices of drugs in hospital pharmacies are also jacked up depending on the room of the patient. If a patient is in a ward sharing room, he pays P10 for a certain drug that costs P5 in an outside drugstore. If he stays in a private room, the same drug costs P15, and if he is in a suite then it costs around P25.

“This pricing scheme also holds true for doctors’ fees, diagnostics, and other fees. Hospitals are just using the drug price law as an excuse to raise their rates.”

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SIZING-UP: Mr. Castle talks only of the stratified prices of hospital medicines, whose wholesale purchase price and efficacy are uniform but whose retail price to patients differs on the dubious basis of their room accommodation.

There is also this ugly practice: Watch how the doctor sizes up the patient and surveys what and who are in the room.

If the patient looks rich or can-afford and there are indications of upscale lifestyle — such as flower arrangements, expensive gadgets brought in and the well-to-do appearance of relatives and visitors (their shoes, dresses, accessories, etc.) — the doctor’s fee soars.

This is pure greed. It must be punished and stopped immediately. And to think this is perpetrated by doctors whose avowed mission is to promote health and save lives!

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TAX EVASION: Another practice that should be checked is the bringing in of redundant specialists by the attending physician on the pretext that he needs his doctor-friends’ opinions.

Sometimes their services comprise only of holding the wrist, talking to the patient bedside and kunwari offering advice.

The Bureau of Internal Revenue should also crack down on the rampant tax-evasion among many doctors and health professionals.

Billions in taxes are lost when doctors do not issue official receipts that are registered with the BIR. Some of them just ask their secretaries to type out “receipts” on typewriters, computer-printers or on generic receipts bought from bookstores.

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ABANDONED: Some doctors push expensive medicines just because they are being sold or field tested by their favored pharma firms. Sometimes exotic drugs have negative side effects that are not fully explained first to the patients.

Since the average patient is unable to protect himself from these avaricious and unprofessional practices, the government must step in immediately in a big way.

But it seems most government officials sworn to protect the public are more interested in something else. We have been abandoned to wolves in hypocritical white.

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DISCOUNT?: Commission on Elections chairman Jose Melo said they were preparing for possibly holding manual elections in 30-50 percent of the country, especially where there could be power and transmission problems.

If this happens, will the P7.2-billion bill of its technical contractor, Smartmatic-TIM, be correspondingly reduced? It should be, if the contractor fails to deliver in areas where automation does not work.

We are using nationwide automation for the first time without its being tried successfully first in several pilot areas as required by law. Was the last exercise in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao enough compliance?

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PARALLEL COUNT: “Why not do a parallel manual count?” former Bataan Rep. Felicito C. Payumo, now board chairman of the University of Nueva Caceres, asked.

He said: “If the Comelec can do a manual count in a large swath of the country, despite its earlier insistence that the law only authorized a full, end to end automated poll, why not a parallel manual count, not just in high risk areas, but in all precincts? The results of the machine count can then be checked with the manual count by counting the same preprinted ballots. If the results are the same, they can be electronically transmitted. If they are different, the manually counted results should prevail.

“Even as the Supreme Court ruled that the automation contract was legal, it also called for ‘all advocates of orderly and honest elections to assist Comelec address the fears expressed about the integrity of the system.’ It is in this spirit that we make this contribution.”

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of September 22, 2009)

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