CHCC budget request focus: Operations, personnel

Senate budget might not be ready for tomorrow’s session

The Commonwealth Healthcare Corp.’s budget request focuses mainly on operational and personnel expenses, according to CHCC representatives.

According to CHCC chief financial officer Derek Sasamoto, who was at yesterday’s session of the Senate Fiscal Affairs Committee, CHCC’s budget request of $73.9 million for fiscal year 2019 is divided into personnel expenses and operations expenses only.

In a letter by CHCC chief executive officer Esther Muña that Sasamoto summarized for the committee during yesterday’s meeting, it said that the $73.9 million budget request “represents $52.4 million for personnel and $21.5 million for operations.”

Personnel expenses represents CHCC’s current staffing as well as additional staff needed. This includes medical professionals—doctors and nurses—and their support staff.

“[This also includes] additional staff for Rota and Tinian health centers,” said Muña in the letter. Sasamoto noted that all of Tinian Health Center’s request for additional employees are included in the $73.9 million budget after Sen. Francisco Cruz (R-Tinian) asked for clarification.

Muna’s letter also noted that charity care, or uncollectible debts, and the non-payment of local Medicaid funds matching continue to plague CHCC, despite improved revenue generation. Sasamoto noted in yesterday’s committee-meeting-turned-budget hearing for CHCC that while CHCC revenue continues to rise—$39.6 million in fiscal year 2016; $52 million in fiscal year 2017; and an estimated $56.4 million in fiscal year 2018—local Medicaid costs minus local matching is at $14 million in “opportunity costs” lost. Sasamoto further noted that this is projected to increase to $15.5 million in fiscal year 2019.

Medicaid services pay for 55 percent of medical costs for those under Medicaid, while the local government is expected to shoulder the remaining 45 percent. The local government has not been matching the 45 percent since 2013, causing the corporation to lose potential revenue annually.

“…Given that uncompensated care [uncollectible debts] is averaging $1.6 million a month, the loss of these potential revenues is tremendous,” wrote Muña, further emphasizing the corporation’s need for funding.

Senate product for budget might not be ready for tomorrow’s session
Sen. Jude U. Hofschneider (R-Tinian), who chairs the Senate Fiscal Affairs Committee, earlier noted that the Senate product for the fiscal year 2019 budget might be ready for Senate action by tomorrow, but this might no longer be the case in the wake of yesterday’s committee meeting.

“We are trying to crunch all the provisions and all the numbers and, as I mentioned last time, that I was hopeful [to have a product by Wednesday], but we are still gathering the information before us,” Hofschneider said. He added that there were some figures that he would like to clarify with Gov. Ralph DLG Torres’ Cabinet members.

According to Hofschneider, some of the changes the committee wishes to implement are appropriating more funds to the Public School System. In the House version of the budget bill, PSS is appropriated $41.8 million.

“…We are also looking at, as far as CHCC is concerned, at their presentation today as well. We are also looking at submissions of line agencies and their personnel requests; some of them requested salary adjustments. All of those factors, we are closely monitoring it,” he said, without mentioning anything specific.

Committee member Sen. Teresita Santos (R-Rota) noted that the Senate has been looking at various approaches to meet CHCC’s request. Santos also chairs the Senate Committee on Health and Welfare.

Erwin Encinares | Reporter
Erwin Charles Tan Encinares holds a bachelor’s degree from the Chiang Kai Shek College and has covered a wide spectrum of assignments for the Saipan Tribune. Encinares is the paper’s political reporter.

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