No changes yet in regulations for Health Network Program

Posted on Mar 23 2023

The Commonwealth Healthcare Corp., which now administers the Health Network Program—formerly known as the Medical Referral Program—advises that there have been no changes in its regulations (Title 75-50) since the enactment of Public Law 22-33 authorizing the program.

However, facing a critical funding crisis, the program must exercise caution in its expenditures while adhering to regulations. Steps taken include clarifying ambiguities and updating the income eligibility, which determines who is eligible for benefits of the program—air transportation, accommodations, ground transportation, and subsistence.

As the new law requires, on Jan. 31, 2023, CHCC asked for $3,487,754 to operate the program in the current quarter, leaving the CHCC leadership with the challenge of ensuring support continues for those currently in the system and for those waiting for the determination of eligibility. Since that request, however, CHCC has received only $700,000 in total.

CHCC had hoped to receive two years of adequate funding to turn the program around and bring sustainability to the program, which helps provide access to necessary medical services for individuals in the CNMI.

CHCC has already implemented cost reduction strategies, which have contributed to a nearly 34% decrease—from an annual expenditure of nearly $17 million in 2019 to $11.2 million in 2022, while still providing benefits to over 1,000 residents. Initiatives implemented require time and continued funding to obtain tangible outcomes. Some of the cost-saving measures taken by CHCC since 2021 include improved coordination of benefits with insurance plans, particularly CNMI Medicaid, capped airfare, use of a company credit card to book flights, minimizing blocked rooms, and the utilization of ride-sharing platforms such as Uber Health.

In the meantime, CHCC urges the community to access primary and preventive care. Before requesting HNP support, know if you will qualify for HNP benefits and understand your options to access services. The HNP staff are available to answer questions and assist you with making appointments—(670) 323-1445 or email—which is open to all, even if determined to be ineligible to receive other benefits. (CHCC)

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