Government told to comment on hospital privatization plan

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Wednesday, February 19, 2014

THE Supreme Court (SC) has required the government to explain the legality of the planned privatization of the country's lone specialized orthopedic hospital.

Told to comment on the petition filed by groups such as People's Health Movement and militant lawmakers within 10 days were President Benigno Aquino III, Health Secretary Enrique Ona, Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima, Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan, Health Undersecretary Teodoro Herbosa and the Megawide- World Citi Consortium, among others.

The Department of Health (DOH) earlier awarded to Megawide the P5.69-billion contract to modernize the Philippine Orthopedic Center (POC) in Quezon City, a 700-bed medical facility that caters to patients with musculoskeletal disorders and serves as a center for trauma and orthopedics.

Last week, indigent patients and health professionals asked the SC to stop the project, saying the government has abandoned its duty to provide health services to the poor and underprivileged.

The petition, which called for the issuance of a temporary restraining order (TRO), also assailed the use of the Build Operate Transfer (BOT) law to privatize health services, instead of limiting it to the construction or rehabilitation of hospitals and facilities.

Under the winning bid, petitioners said the "modernized" POC is allowed to allocate only 70 beds (10 percent capacity) for service (indigent) patients and 420 for sponsored (PhilHealth) patients – compared to the current 562 beds or 85 percent capacity for indigent patients.

The petitioners said this is a violation of Republic Act 1939, which mandates government hospitals like the POC to allot not less than 90 percent of its bed capacity as free or charity beds.

They also feared that POC regular employees will lose their jobs since there is a possibility that those who choose to stay may not be absorbed by the new management.

Senator Aquilino Pimentel III had already called for a review of the Ramos-era privatization policy, which he said is nothing more but sale of government assets and transfer of government functions into the hands and control of the private sector.

The lawmaker said he has received reports that existing private-public partnerships in government hospitals have gotten the ire of the public because of high fees being charged by private firms operating diagnostic medical equipment and clinics inside the hospitals.

"Before proceeding with further privatization of government hospitals, government should study first the effect and performance of previously privatized government hospitals. Then we should answer if we are to proceed with this policy," Pimentel said. (Sunnex)

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