The CNMI Medical Referral Services Program has been assisting patients as much as they can, even providing logistic support to those who have private insurance, according to program director Ronald D. Sablan.
He said the program has three satellite offices in Guam, Hawaii, and the Philippines where CNMI residents usually travel to seek medical care not available on Saipan.
Sablan said the cost they spend for patients varies from place to place.
“The cost of living depends where they are getting treated. The costs in Guam is different from that in Hawaii.”
He added that they help patients under their program by providing transportation, hotel, stipend, and other basic needs. “For example in the Philippines, we provide transportation from the airport to the hotel, hotel to the hospital, and vice versa.”
“But if the patient has a private insurance we only provide transportation services. Patients with private health care providers choose their own hospital, so the only part we do is to provide transportation services,” said Sablan.
“The medical stipend must also be commensurate where the patient is referred to whether in the Philippines, Guam, or Hawaii. Hawaii has the higher stipend since expenses there are also high,” he added.
And with Medicaid not honored in the Philippines, the program shoulders 80 percent of the bill with the patient only paying the 20 percent share. Most of the patents seeking treatment in the Philippines are U.S. citizens and the program pays for the expenses.
“We make sure patients get the proper treatment and not get overbilled. We review their hospital billing and we help patients by paying their medical bills,” said Sablan. “We assist them as much as we can.”
Patients then issue promissory notes to them and that is why the program incurred close to $5 million in bills from the promissory notes they have issued. And Sablan said they have asked the help of the Attorney General’s Office if they could refer the problem to a collection agency.
The program sends an average of over 800 patients a year for medical referrals with the largest going to the Philippines to seek treatment. Expenses for the Philippines reach $2.1 million annually.
Sablan is asking the Legislature for an operating budget of $8.4 million for the coming fiscal year, more than double the proposed $4 million of Gov. Ralph DLG Torres. The program is one of the core areas that Torres identified.
The program has already spent $5 million in actual expenditures for FY 2016 with $2.1 million in the Philippines alone. The program would only need less than half of the $8.4 million if they were not paying the expenses incurred by Medicaid patients.