The Senate and House health committees jointly met yesterday to find out the status of healthcare in the Commonwealth. The joint meeting was held at the Senate chamber on Capital Hill.
Senate Committee on Health and Welfare chair Sen. Teresita Santos (R-Rota) was joined by vice chair Sen. Justo Quitugua (Ind-Saipan), Sens. Francisco Cruz (R-Tinian), Jude Hofschneider (R-Tinian), and Sixto Igisomar (R-Saipan). Senate Vice President Arnold Palacios was also present.
“Understanding the critical importance of healthcare to the people of the CNMI is a collaborative effort between the Senate and House committees, which met in a continuing effort to discuss pressing healthcare issues as it relates to the CHCC’s financial matters, and the CNMI Medical Referral process and requirements for referring patients outside the CNMI,” said Santos.
CHCC refers to the Commonwealth Healthcare Corp., which runs the local hospital, the Commonwealth Health Center, and the health centers in Kagman and on Rota and Tinian.
Rep. Felicidad Ogumoro (R-Saipan) is Santos’ counterpart in the House of Representatives’ side with Reps. Blas Jonathan Attao (Ind-Saipan) and Edwin Propst (Ind-Saipan) joining her on the panel.
CHCC chief executive officer Esther L. Muna, MHA, led the CHCC side at the meeting and was accompanied by interim chief financial officer Priscilla Iakopo. Public Health and Hospital Emergency Preparedness Program accountant Cora Ada—who is also a former CFO—and billing manager Rose Gibbons were also present.
The joint hearing focused on CHCC’s financial status, and the referral policies of the CNMI Medical Referral Program and the Medical Review Board, which is composed of six members: four from CHCC and two from the private sector. The board meets every Wednesday afternoon and requires receiving all referral packets for review by Tuesday afternoon.
Muna told the committee that CHCC currently operates as a “safety net hospital” and incurs significant losses. A safety net hospital or healthcare system provides service to low-income and uninsured populations.
“CHC currently provides a significant level of care to low-income, uninsured, and vulnerable members of the community. Therefore, we have been experiencing a significant operating loss,” Muna said.
Muna also informed the committee that they have made a huge progress in their billing process; accounts of patients are now being completed in just three months.
CNMI Medical Referral director Ron Sablan and committee chair Dr. John Doyle discussed the process and requirements of how patients are referred to hospitals or medical institutions outside of the CNMI, and lodging facilities—Guam, Hawaii, and the Philippines.
“Patients are briefed and provided with medical referral leaflets before being sent off island. Referral patients would have better options for medical treatment in the future,” said Sablan, who also goes to talk in a radio talk show to inform the community of the program once every four months.
Doyle also informed the committee that the referral program has an escort policy for disabled patients and persons who have limited movements. “The status quo is working right now and changing it will not be in the best interest of our referral patients.”