Getting treated for coronavirus comes with a hefty price tag

Bonz Magsambol

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Getting treated for coronavirus comes with a hefty price tag
How much does a coronavirus treatment cost in some private hospitals in Metro Manila?

MANILA, Philippines – Getting infected with the deadly novel coronavirus is dreadful. The medical bill is yet another scare. 

Julieta Alunan, 56, recently recovered from the coronavirus disease or COVID-19. She told Rappler that her bill skyrocketed to P1.312 million after her 15-day stay in a private hospital in Metro Manila. 

“Inabot ng P1.312 million ang bill ko (My bill reached P1.312 million). I was admitted on March 24. That was for a 15-day confinement, Alunan said.

But thanks to the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth), she did not need to pay anything for her hospital bill.

On March 26, PhilHealth announced that it would shoulder all hospital expenses of Filipinos should they be diagnosed with COVID-19.

Under the Universal Health Care Law, PhilHealth is tasked with implementing the National Health Insurance Program, which covers all Filipino citizens.

According to Alunan, a bulk of her medical bill went to laboratory tests, doctors’ professional fees, along with charges for intubation, ventilator and respirator use throughout her confinement.

“The doctors’ fee varies. I had 15 doctors with different specializations and that cost around P300,000. While the medication, intubation, laboratory tests, ventilator and respirator cost around P500,000 already,” she added.

TOTAL COST. A copy of Julieta Alunan's hospital bill for her coronavirus treatment. Courtesy of Julieta Alunan

Alunan was diagnosed with Level 3 of the disease or severe pneumonia. She was intubated for 4 days. 

Alunan said that while she and her family were aware that PhilHealth would cover all expenses since it was all over the news, they didn’t expect that it would actually happen. 

“Aware naman kami kasi may mga news na pero hindi naman kami dumipende nang 100%. Pero sabi nga namin kung ibibigay, salamat, kung hindi, magagawan naman ng paraan. Sa awa ng Diyos nakaligtas ako. Ang pera naman kikitain pa ‘yan,” she said. 

(We were aware of the PhilHealth rule because it was all over the news, but we didn’t depend on it 100%. But we thought to ourselves, if they give it, then thank you, if not, we’ll find a way. With the mercy of God, I survived. The money can be earned anyway.)

According to Alunan, she only had to accomplish a release form from PhilHealth on April 8. 

Rappler spoke to Dr Jose Antonio Bautista, a cardiologist from the St Luke’s Medical Center in Bonifacio Global City, who himself tested positive for the coronavirus. (READ: [FIRST PERSON] I became PH253)

Bautista didn’t need to worry about his hospital bill as this was fully paid by St Luke’s.

According to Bautista, the treatment for coronavirus could really cost millions depending on the severity of cases.

“One of the reasons is that you have to consider the personal protective equipment of the health care professionals This needs to be replenished every time. And another reason is the medication of the patient depending on the severity of his case,” Bautista explained.

Bautista, however, said that treatment in private hospitals is relatively more costly than national hospitals and facilities operated by local government units. 

Bautista added, “The worse the symptoms, the worse the cost that they should expect when being confined in a private hospital.”

But due to overcapacity in government-run hospitals, some patients didn’t have a choice but to be admitted in a private facility. (READ: Medical industry leaders to DOH: Designate dedicated coronavirus hospitals now)

This was true for another patient Rappler spoke with. 

On March 24, a son of a coronavirus patient told Rappler that they were left with no choice but to bring his father to a high-end private hospital since he needed to be intubated immediately. All the nearby hospitals were already full and could not accept him.

When Rappler spoke with him, his father had a running bill of P1.4 million already. But due to the lack of clarity on PhilHealth guidelines on expenses that could be covered at that time, he worried about how they would be able to settle the hospital bill. (READ: Lack of PhilHealth rules on coronavirus expenses leaves patient’s family in limbo)

In their first communication with PhilHealth and the Asian Hospital and Medical Center, they were told that the state insurer will cover only P42,000 of the bill – P32,000 for the pneumonia-related disease and P14,000 for the isolation room.

PhilHealth later clarified its guidelines and covered all the medical expenses of his father which amounted to more than P3.1 million. The patient unfortunately died on April 9. 

New PhilHealth rule beginning April 15

But things will be different now, especially for patients who can’t afford the costly treatment for the disease. 

On April 1, PhilHealth announced that it would only cover all hospital expenses for coronavirus patients until April 14. 

“The reason for this accommodation window is due to the novelty and the wide range of severity of the disease in the country for which no existing rate or package based on accepted protocols has yet been established,” PhilHealth said in a statement.

On April 7, the state insurer released a case rate package for expenses of patients afflicted with the coronavirus disease beginning April 15. According to PhilHealth President Ricardo Morales, the package is categorized as pneumonia because this respiratory illness was a complication of the coronavirus disease.

These categories are:

  • Mild pneumonia- P43,997
  • Moderate pneumonia- P143,267
  • Severe pneumonia- P333,519
  • Critical pneumonia- P786,384

This means that PhilHealth will only cover the patients’ expenses based on the severity of their cases. The remaining amount will have to be shouldered by the patients.

The Department of Health said the country has 75 hospitals with dedicated facilities for coronavirus patients and which can accommodate 3,194 patients as of April 13. (READ: IN NUMBERS: What hospitals need to treat COVID-19 patients)

As of Thursday, the Philippines registered 5,660 cases of coronavirus cases, with 362 deaths and 435 recoveries. The number of infections worldwide has surpassed two million, while over 137,000 people have died across 193 countries and territories. –

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Bonz Magsambol

Bonz Magsambol covers the Philippine Senate for Rappler.