AT THE END OF THE DAY
“At the end of the day, we need to send our patients off-island.”
That was Gov. Ralph DLG Torres’ response when asked about a recent Office of the Public Auditor’s report that showed that the CNMI Medical Referral Services Office overspent by $27 million from fiscal years 2018 to 2019.
Torres said Monday that some may blame his administration and/or the Legislature for this over-expenditure, but at its core, those that need to pursue off-island healthcare need to be taken care of.
He hopes, though, that in the near future, the CNMI’s patients will be able to receive better healthcare within the CNMI, but said that the current situation calls for patients to seek healthcare off-island.
“It’s either you [give] upfront $15 million to the Legislature, or we [have] to go through a deficit. …We hope that this year and the years coming that we’re able to provide better healthcare here for our patients…but at the end of the day, we need to send our patients off-island,” said Torres.
When asked if this is a situation where the Legislature has underfunded the medical referral program or if the program itself overspent, Torres said “it goes both ways,” adding that some may play the blame game, but reiterated that for the CNMI’s patients that need to seek off-island healthcare, their needs must be met. If the program needs to incur more of a deficit, Torres said he is “willing to take that risk.”
“We can do the blame gaming. We can blame the administration, ‘Why not put $15 million in their budget?’… We can blame the Legislature saying, ‘Why are you not prioritizing [the program]?’ …I don’t want to do name-blaming, [because] at the end of the day our patients that need to be sent [off-island] need to be sent, and if we need to incur more of a deficit I’m willing to take that risk,” said Torres.
He said that he has been in close communication with Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. chief executive officer Esther Muña to discuss providing more and better healthcare services for the CNMI’s patients.
“I hope through communication with Esther [Muña] that we’re able to provide better services here so that medical referral program patients don’t have to go off-island. …If we’re able to cut half of [the number of patients that go off-island] in one year, that’ll save us in the long run,” said Torres.