House unanimously approves Health Network Program
The CNMI House of Representatives unanimously approved a bipartisan House bill to establish the Health Network Program as an integrated service of the Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. The Health Network Program connects patients to CHCC’s network of providers and assists patients in accessing healthcare services outside of the CNMI that are beyond CHCC’s capacity or availability to provide.
Introduced by House Health and Welfare Committee chair Rep. Christina Sablan (D-Saipan), House Bill 22-77, HS1 sets forth the duties and responsibilities of the Health Network Program, to include facilitating access to care for eligible CNMI patients; maintaining program data and reporting to the legislature and the governor; coordinating medical records; identifying and pursuing opportunities to improve care in the CNMI and reduce the need for patients to travel off-island; operating within appropriated funding levels; and promulgating rules and regulations.
House Bill 22-77, HS1 also provides for the orderly transition of the off-island medical referral services from the Governor’s Office to CHCC, and protects CHCC from incurring outstanding debts and liabilities of the former medical referral office. The bill further clarifies that outstanding promissory notes shall remain a receivable of the central government and not the responsibility of CHCC.
“From the beginning of the 22nd legislative term, the Health and Welfare Committee spearheaded the initiative to review and reform the program long known as medical referral, in light of the program’s long-standing issues,” said Sablan. These issues include chronic underfunding, the lack of an enabling statute that clearly sets forth the legal authority and parameters for services, and difficulties containing costs, minimizing patients’ lengths of stay off-island, and coordinating patient care and health records across different providers.
“This legislation was developed over the course of more than a year, in close coordination with CHCC. It reflects recommendations received during an extensive public comment period and multiple public hearings conducted on Saipan, Tinian and Rota,” Sablan said.
In developing the bill, the Health and Welfare Committee took into account the analyses and comments received from CHCC leadership, medical referral staff, Rota and Tinian health centers, the Office of the Attorney General, the Department of Finance, the Special Assistant for Administration, the CNMI Medicaid Agency, the Office of the Public Auditor, and concerned citizens.
The bill’s co-sponsors include all of the members of the Health and Welfare Committee: Reps Leila Staffler, Donald Manglona, Sheila Babauta, and Blas Jonathan Attao; as well as Speaker Edmund Villagomez, floor leader Ralph Yumul, minority leader Angel Demapan, and Reps. Denita Yangetmai, Edwin Propst, Richard Lizama, Vicente Camacho, Celina Babauta, and Roy Ada.
House Bill 22-77, HS1 now moves to the Senate for approval. (PR)