Kill HB 4955 Before it hurts You!

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In our column two weeks ago, we stated that passing House Bill 4955, which is pending in congress, was like using a shotgun to kill a fly on the patient's forehead. This proposed legislation is nothing but a big migraine headache called aspirin, a cancerous malady masquerading as a cure. We have since received a lot of inquiries from our readers about the real implications of this House Bill. Here in detail is how House Bill 4955 will hurt you and your family if it is enacted into law.

Also known as the Malpractice Act of 2002, HB 4955 seeks to criminalize any mistake done by licensed physicians in their diagnosis and/or treatment, whether the act is an honest one, without malice or bad intent, or the error occurred because of the natural probability governing human imperfection and also because of the fact that medicine is not an exact science to begin with. To expect infallibility from a physician, who is not God, is not only unrealistic but most unfair.

How will HB 4955, if enacted into law, hurt you and your family?

I do not have a crystal ball to predict the future, but since I have lived in the United States since 1963 where I have witnessed and experienced with horror the adverse effects of a similar piece of legislation on the American people, I can "foretell" with certainty what will happen to us, Filipinos, if HB 4955 is passed.

On the surface, HB 4955 aims to protect the rights of the patients, but the painful realities that will follow the enactment of this type of a bill will hurt every Filipino man, woman and child.

To understand the issue and its unsavory ramifications, let us trace the whole scenario all the way down to the final stage where (and how) it will hurt the Filipino people and our country if this house bill passes.

The true nature of this beast

If House Bill 4955 (really a wolf in a sheep's clothing) passes and enacted into law, the following events will ensue, cascading beyond our control, with rippling effects that will go on and on, victimizing and holding hostage all Filipinos families:

1. Once House Bill 4955 is enacted into law, another House Bill, inspired by the same sponsors and proponents of HB 4955 --- the people with vested financial interest on this matter, the only ones who will benefit from such a law --- will be introduced in congress, mandating physicians to carry malpractice insurance. The same thing happened in the United States.

2. The physicians will be forced to buy costly malpractice insurance, increasing (more than doubling) their overhead expenses, leaving them no choice but to raise their professional fees in order to at least pay the salaries of their office staff and other overhead expenses, and to feed their own family. Example is the malpractice premium in the USA for obstetricians and other specialists, which is in the region of $200,000 (about P10 million). With a tax bracket of about 50%, the physicians in the United States have to earn a minimum of $400,000 (about P20 million) to afford the liability insurance premium, with no money left for office overhead or for their family. Who can afford this? Who can survive this? This situation has led to a skyrocketing medical cost (professional fees and hospital charges) which is currently prohibitive even to the middle class Americans. Do we really want this for the Filipinos?

3. If enacted into law, House Bill 4955 will be a legal sword dangling over the physicians' head as they practice medicine and care for the patients, and they will be forced to practice defensive medicine, instead of humane and compassionate medicine. Example: if a patient comes in with a headache, the physicians, in our healthier practice environment today, will interview and examine the patient, and using scientific logic and medical facts gained from their training and experience, diagnose and treat the patient the least costly as possible. But if HB 4955, or similar restrictive bill, is enacted into law, the physicians seeing a patient with a headache will be so defensive and careful (to avoid a law suit) and order expensive tests like a CT scan of the brain and a host of other tests, to "cover" himself well because a wrong diagnosis (although an honest one) could, according to this proposed Bill, send the physicians to "jail for 6 years and one day up to 12 years, a fine of half a million to one million pesos, and revocation of their license to practice medicine." So, what happens? Defensive medicine ultimately means more expenses for the patients and their family. If the law demands the physicians to be perfect and infallible, they have no choice but to try their best to be as perfect as possible (by ordering all the tests to rule out even the highly improbable medical conditions). Because of an unjust law (like HB 4955, if it passes), the patients will suffer and spend more of their hard earned money.

4. Because of very expensive malpractice insurance, many physicians will choose to retire early, limit their practice, or relocate, all of which will make medical care less accessible to everyone; hospitals and clinics, for the same reason, will shut down or cut down services (such as OB and emergency services) like what is presently happening in the United States because of a similar restrictive law, a law many Americans are regretting today for having supported at all when it was still a house bill. Even the U.S. congress is now revisiting this issue and trying to make amends for a mistake they now realize to be very costly. President Bush and the American Medical Association blame the current dilemma in healthcare in the United States to be due to the malpractice crisis. So, why do we, Filipinos, want to make the same mistake by passing this House Bill 4955? Let us kill this bill before it kills us.

5. Medical schools and hospitals with training programs will find the malpractice premiums and the malpractice climate to be too prohibitive and costly, leading most of them to stop training young doctors and residents. This will reduce available physicians in the country, especially in big cities where more demanding patients will tend to sue more. This will eventually lead to less accessible medical care. This is happening in America. Is this what we really want for our people?

We already have enough laws to protect the patient against negligent physicians

Currently, the Revised Penal Code of the Philippines already has enough effective laws to protect the patients against negligent or criminal physicians, which also have provisions to indemnify the patient and the family who fall victims to these erring healthcare givers. Records will show that these are adequate laws, if properly enforced. As we have stated earlier, passing House Bill 4955 is like using a shotgun to kill a fly on the patient's forehead. This proposed "cure" is worse than the "disease" it claims to treat. The patient and his family, and their wallet, will suffer, if HB 4955 becomes law.

Only the politicians and others with vested interest, not the patient, will benefit from House Bill 4955

It is obvious by now that the patients and their family will not benefited by the passing of this House Bill 4955. As a matter of fact, its enactment into law will hurt the patients and every Filipino, not to mention the negative impact it will have on our already deteriorating economy. The only ones to be benefited by this piece of legislation are the rich insurance companies, the politicians, malpractice lawyers, and business people with vested financial interest in the passage of this bill. They are the ones to harvest the financial gains, while our country and the majority of the Filipinos, especially the poor, get hurt and lose their hard earned peso.

This mistake has already happened to the people of the United States because of the mistake they did in passing a similar law that has led to their present medical care crisis. While their congress is now trying to rectify the legislative error they committed in the past, some our legislators in the Philippines appear eager to commit the same mistakes, because they will be the ones to benefit directly from the passage of this bill.never mind the millions of Filipinos and their family who will eventually get hurt and suffer!

Let us not take this sitting on the fence!

If we allow House Bill 4955 to pass, we will have only ourselves to blame for the suffering it will cost our family and our children and the generations to come. I challenge our leaders, and all Filipinos, especially the youth, to stand up and fight for the defeat of House Bill 4955. Indifference, inaction or complacency will allow this unjust and harmful piece of legislation to pass and victimize all Filipinos and our beloved country. Let us not permit that to happen.

I am sounding this challenge, this clarion call, to all those within the reach of my voice today, and to those within the reach of yours tomorrow, to put People Power into action once again to defend the future of our people. Let us all phone, email or text our senators and congressmen to ask them to vote against House Bill 4955 and prevent a devastating nightmare for the Filipinos, similar to what has already happened to the people of the United States. Let us learn from their mistakes, and not repeat them. If we allow House Bill 4955 to pass without fighting to defeat it, then we deserve all the painful consequences the new law will bring us and our family. No one else is to blame but us.

©2003Raoul R. Diez, M.A.O.D.