Health is wealth because good health is the bedrock of a peaceful, happy, and productive life and community.
For a third-world country like the Philippines, it can also mean the need to stay healthy because hospitalization is costly. Poverty has indeed prevented millions of Filipinos from getting their needed healthcare services due to their inability to pay for the hospital and receive the necessary treatment.
But not in Zamboanga del Sur on the island of Mindanao. The Zamboanga del Sur Medical Center (ZDSMC) has a ‘Zero Balance Billing Policy’ that allows its constituents to get the treatment they actually need. This excellent health service program which has been running since 2019 and shall continue this year in 2023 is made possible by the unity of the leaders of the province and the collaboration of some government agencies and party lists.
The Birth of Zero Balance Billing Policy
The No-Balance Billing Policy of ZDSMC is an initiative of the incumbent Zamboanga del Sur Governor Victor J. Yu, which he promised during his campaign for election.
Since the launching of the Malasakit Center in September 2019, during the time of former President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, much medical assistance has followed to materialize to which they call the Medical Assistance for Indigent Patients (MAIP) program.
Many have provided for the MAIP program such as Governor Victor J. Yu and Congresswoman Divina Grace C. Yu, the Department of Health (DOH), Tingog Partylist and the Ayudang Medikal mula sa Bangsamoro Government (AMBaG).
PhilHealth also plays a major role in the no-balance billing policy. In fact, the bills of the patients will be lobbied first to their PhilHealth package, then the exceeding amount will be charged to the Malasakit Program and other medical assistance available.
Patients admitted in the pedia ward, medical wards, surgical wards, obstetrics (OB) ward, dialysis, and even in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) will pay zero balance bills.
Who can avail of the Zero Balance Billing Policy?
This policy of ZDSMC started off with PhilHealth being strict that only the indigents, senior citizens, kasambahay, and other low-income individuals can avail of the medical assistance but Gov. Victor Yu insists this be made available for all patients.
As of now, all patients can already avail of the said program, including the non-Zambosurians who will be admitted to the hospital.
For this to be possible, Hospital Chief Anatalio Cagampang Jr. explains: Atong gituyo na giwala ang private rooms labi na pagsugod jud sa COVID surge atong 2020 to 2021. Kay ang balaod man gud sa medical assistance, kung private ka nga room, di ka ka avail ana. So gihimo nalang nato ug ward tanan.
(We have intentionally removed the private rooms, especially since the beginning of the COVID surge in 2020 to 2021, because the rule on medical assistance states if you will use a private room - you cannot avail of the program. Hence, we made all as a ward.)
Dr. Cagampang further explains there are two kinds of indigent patients.
There are indigents who do not have PhilHealth yet. The hospital will enroll them through in what they call ‘Point of Care’ (POC). In POC, they will only ask for requirements like a valid Identification card, and a certificate of the indigent from the barangay. Afterward, the hospital now will enroll them for one year in PhilHealth. Enrolment is free.
On the other hand, those who are capable to pay for their PhilHealth, for example, those who have worked even in the government, when discharged, the excess of their bills after paying with their PhilHealth package, will be charged to the available MAIP.
The limitations of quality care
Dr. Anatalio Cagampang Jr. said the hospital only has a 100-bed capacity. Yet, their patients often reach 200 or more per day.
“Limited ra jud ang atong mga pasyente. Pero musobra jud mi usahay, tag 200 plus. Kung in ani, di na jud mi; kay lisud pud dili quality care atong ihatag. Sakto pud na staff atong ihatag nila para magcater. Once ma-admit, we can assure you, pag discharge na zero balance gyud gihapon inyong bill,” Dr. Cagampang stressed.
(Our patients are limited. But sometimes we go overboard, 200 plus. If this is the case, we will not be able to provide quality care because it is difficult. We want to take care of them with the right staff. Once admitted, we can assure you when discharged, your bill will be zero balance.)
Zamboanga del Sur Medical Center (ZDSMC) is a level 2 hospital in the province; the only level 2 owned and run by the Local Government Unit (LGU), not by the Department of Health (DOH). As a level 2 government hospital, ZDSMC is the end referral in Zamboanga del Sur.
The infirmaries, which are classified in level 1, often bring patients they are not capable of giving the health care needed that ZDSMC can provide.
ZDSMC has consultants and specialist doctors employed and others under a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) who are on call when their service is needed. This is so that they can cater to surgery cases, obstetrics (OB) cases, pedia cases, dialysis, ICU, and many more.
Further, DOH and PhilHealth inspected the hospital and classified it as a clean and safe one.
Cagampang said: “Ready jud ang hospital to cater any cases or problems sa pasyente. Kung naa sila kinahanglan, pwede ma-admit diri sa hospital.”
(The hospital is ready to cater to any cases or problems of the patient. If they have a need, they can be admitted to the hospital.)
Moreover, Indigents with outpatient department (OPD) cases such as laboratories can avail of zero-balance billing. They only have to go to the Malasakit center where they will be interviewed about their work and economic standing. If proven to be indigent or incapable, they can avail of hospital services for free.
Department of Health
The principal health agency in the Philippines, the Department of Health (DOH) has contributed a lot to ZDSMC. They have provided Medical Assistance for Indigent Patients (MAIP) amounting to Php 3 million or Php 5 million depending on the availability of funds. When it runs out, the hospital can ask them for more.
DOH-IX has also provided assistance, logistics, and other personnel to the hospital. The hospital chief said when they lack staff, especially during the COVID surge, DOH has provided through what they call the Emergency Hiring for Human Resources for health.
Zamboanga del Sur Medical Center (ZDSMC) always wowed its visitors with this policy program.
Hospital Chief Dr. Cagampang said: “Ang mag-visit diri, makapangutana pwede di-ay, di mo gansi? Mangatawa lang pud mi, kay zero man gyud. Bisan pa ang mga pasyente pang interbyuhon, zero balance jud sila.”
(Those who visit here can ask questions, is it possible, are you not deficit? We just laugh it off, because it's really zero. Even the patients here when interviewed can testify about their zero balance bills.)
Accessible health care and free hospitalization are possible! This is the message of hope that the Zero-Balance Billing Policy of Zamboanga del Sur Medical Center (ZDSMC) brings to Filipinos, in the province, and to the whole Philippines.
As long as government leaders and agencies will work hand-in-hand to put the budget to the right cause, quality service can be felt, and lives can be changed. (RVC/EDT/CCP/PIA9)