Torres says Sablan needs to do her homework

Atalig urges lawmakers not to politicize Medicaid, CHCC programs

Ralph DLG Torres, David DLG Atalig and Christina E. Sablan

Gov. Ralph DLG Torres said Friday that Rep. Christina E. Sablan (D-Saipan) needs to do her homework first before she starts talking and accusing him of lacking any sense of urgency in coming up with $5 million in local matching funds for the Commonwealth Medicaid Agency.

“There is no urgency. I don’t see any issue. We are not short on Medicaid,” said Torres in response to a question during a radio press briefing.

At the same press briefing, Finance Secretary David DLG Atalig urged lawmakers not to politicize the Medicaid program or the Commonwealth Healthcare program, noting that the administration throughout this COVID-19 pandemic gave millions of dollars for equipment and services for the hospital and Medicaid programs. Torres said they are actually giving the Commonwealth Medicaid Agency more than what was originally appropriated for it.

Last Aug. 2, saying the ripple effects of losing $28 million in federal Medicaid money will be devastating, Sablan and Rep. Donald M. Manglona (Ind-Rota) urged Torres in a joint letter to exercise his 25% reprogramming authority to immediately transfer the required $5 million local matching funds to CMO.

Sablan and Manglona chair the House of Representatives Health and Welfare Committee and Ways and Means Committee, respectively.

Sablan and Manglona said Torres may also direct the Finance secretary to provide the House with an updated status of all accounts to assist them in identifying the funding sources for an amendment to the budget act for fiscal year 2022.

In an indirect broadside, Torres said in a later interview that some elected officials go on social media and other platforms to not just misinform the community but “stir uncertainty in our own people” about an alleged lack of $5 million in local matching funds. Torres said Medicaid was never in jeopardy and it has always been taken care of.

Sablan is running against Torres for governor this November election.

Last Wednesday, Sablan wrote to the media, stating, among other things, that there is no excuse for why Torres’ administration has kept the CMO and the CHCC in the dark for months about how and when the local match would come.Sablan urged Torres to make an effort to understand the issues affecting Medicaid and the CHCC.

“There is no excuse for Gov. Torres’ total lack of urgency,” said Sablan, adding that the administration has known about Medicaid’s need for the $5 million local match since at least March, when the new U.S. Treasury rule barring the use of the American Rescue Plan Act funds for the Medicaid match was released.

Asked to comment Friday, Torres said Sablan and Manglona are making issues when there is none.

“And I think that’s very ignorant of any legislature, especially for her or anybody else, to be making comments,” the governor said.

He said he does not understand why Sablan has to write a letter to the media, instead of writing a letter to him and asking him directly where the money for Medicaid is.

“As a legislator, she should know first before she starts disseminating false information or inaccurate information,” Torres said.

Atalig said the administration prioritizes health care and they gave Medicaid $39 million in ARPA funds to help with their operations and past debts just before the U.S. Treasury disallowed states to use ARPA funds for matching costs. When that came to his attention, Atalig said he had meetings with former CMO director Helen Sablan prior to Vicenta Borja taking the acting director position. He said met with Borja about six weeks ago about the $5 million that she said needs to be matched.

“Actually it’s a little bit more. It’s a little over $7 million. But what’s needed for this fiscal year was $5 million,” Atalig said.

The Finance secretary said they discussed about having that from other sources of funds outside of ARPA.

He said with the ARPA, of the $39 million, Medicaid has already spent $38 million of it.

“So we’re taking care of the providers that Medicaid works with and helping our community get the healthcare and the services they need,” Atalig said.

In addition, the Finance secretary said they make sure that the CMO payroll is taken care of and matching for their payroll is identified.

He said he is not how sure how this is being sensationalized and no one has come to his office asking him about Medicaid.

He said he knows that Saipan and Northern Islands Legislative Delegation chair Sen. Vinnie F. Sablan has asked him about it so he told him they are taking care of it.

Atalig said the $5 million local match was identified and he was off-island at the time of the House Health and Welfare Committee meeting, to which he wasn’t even invited to share how they are going to take care of this issue.

“But I already identified the funds for the matching outside of ARPA. And so that was not relayed in the committee meeting,” he said.

At that Health and Welfare Committee meeting, CMO officials were asked what will happen if they don’t have the matching funds for the program. “And, of course, as the governor reiterated earlier this week, in any grant, any federal grant, if you don’t have the match you can’t use the federal side of it,” Atalig said.

He said it doesn’t make sense for the administration to not use $28 million for additional healthcare providers to get paid to service the community that qualify for Medicaid.

He pointed out that there is no urgency as the issue is that Medicaid needs to submit their billings and Finance pays out their billings.

“And so we haven’t delayed…this fiscal year at all. And so I hope that clarifies the Medicaid issue,” he said.

Ferdie De La Torre | Reporter
Ferdie Ponce de la Torre is a senior reporter of Saipan Tribune. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and has covered all news beats in the CNMI. He is a recipient of the CNMI Supreme Court Justice Award. Contact him at ferdie_delatorre@Saipantribune.com
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