Gov. Ralph DLG Torres signed into law on Saturday two measures, including one that sets up a governing board for the Commonwealth Healthcare Corp., before leaving for Washington, D.C. to attend the inauguration of President-elect Donald J. Trump.
House Bill 19-186, HD1, an act that would establish a Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. board of trustees, is now Public Law 19-78.
Torres also signed a bill removing the tenure of board officers under the Board of Professional Licensing; the bill is now PL 19-77.
The passage of PL 19-78 now gives the CHCC board management and control of the corporation’s daily operations, functions, and activities.
Torres, however, enacted the measure with reservations. He urged the Legislature to introduce a separate measure that would make sure the board would comply with regulations of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
“While this bill becomes law, I respectfully advise the Legislature to pass legislation that ensures the governing board is in compliance with [CMS] regulations in order for CHCC to continue receiving federal funds for Medicare or Medicaid patients,” said Torres in the letter to House Speaker Rafael S. Demapan (R-Saipan) and Senate President Arnold I. Palacios (R-Saipan).
“CMS’ regulations aim for a governing body that is primarily responsible for appointing members of the medical staff and for developing an institutional plan and budget. The governing board established by [PL 19-78] has powers beyond what is expected by CMS.”
In case CMS finds the new setup in violation of CHCC regulations, the corporation would run the risk of being ineligible to receive payment from Medicare and Medicaid. “This would hamper the ability of our senior citizens on Medicare and the 36 percent of our population on Medicaid to pay for health care,” Torres said.
Before becoming law, the measure faced stiff opposition from CHCC personnel. CHCC staff—administrative and medical—even had a show of strength when the Senate held its deliberations before voting on the bill on Dec. 6 last year.
CHCC chief executive officer Esther L. Muna, MHA had cautioned officials against changing CHCC’s structure. In fact, the law came about due to the very public nature of the spats between Muña and the former CHCC board, at the time headed by board chair Joaquin Torres. At the time, the board was merely an advisory body and could only make recommendations to Muña.
The bill was introduced by former representative Felicidad T. Ogumoro.
Rep. Lorenzo I. Deleon Guerrero (Ind-Saipan) was the author of H.B. 19-118, which removed the term limits of the CNMI Board of Professional Licensing members in order to avoid a shortage of qualified professionals that would serve on the body.
“The Legislature finds that currently there is a shortage in the CNMI of skilled and educated professionals who are qualified to serve on the [BPL], specifically, professionals who are skilled and educated in the fields of architecture, land surveying, land architecture, and property appraisal.”
“The amendment will help prevent board vacancies as well as to ensure consistency in regulations.”
The members of the board would serve for six years while the officers shall be elected every two years. The board would then elect—by majority vote of a quorum—a chair, vice chair, and secretary.
“In the event of a vacancy on the board for reason resulting in an unexpired term and the governor has failed to appoint a successor within three months after the vacancy occurs, the board may appoint a provisional member to serve in the interim until the governor makes an appointment.”