Traction in Congress


Legislation in U.S. Congress that seeks to provide $360 million for the Northern Marianas Medicaid program over the next six years is gaining traction, with a subcommittee recently approving the measure for a House of Representatives vote.

The U.S. House’s Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee approved last Thursday Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan’s (Ind-MP) bill, H.R. 3631, after it was introduced last July 9.

The legislation, co-sponsored by nine bipartisan members of the U.S. House’s Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee, seeks to provide the territories with Medicaid funding and more relaxed local matching compared to previous years.

Currently, the CNMI’s local match for Medicaid funding is 45% of the total funding assistance.

H.R. 3631 would give the CNMI two years of zero local match; its sixth-year local matching rate would only be 24%. Sablan noted in a previous statement that the CNMI Medicaid office is asking for $59.43 million annually. Six years of that would amount to $356.58 million.

U.S. Congress’ Energy and Commerce Committee chair Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) wants to mark up the bill this week to put it on the U.S. House agenda for quick action, according to Sablan’s statement.

H.R. 3631 directs the NMI to annually report on how the Medicaid money is being used to increase access to health care, increase covered benefits, and expand provider networks in efforts to make program integrity improvements.

American Samoa, Guam, and the NMI will also be required to begin reporting within four years to the Transformed Medicaid Statistical Information System of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, just as Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and all the other states already do.

Finally, American Samoa, Guam, and the NMI will be required to show progress on establishing a Medicaid fraud control unit in their respective Attorney General’s Office.

Sablan previously held a hearing on the “Medicaid cliff,” where NMI Medicaid administrator Helen Sablan noted that the NMI was already in “freefall” after using up all of its Medicaid money right after Super Typhoon Yutu.

Commonwealth Health Care Corp. chief executive officer Esther Muña also testified for the CNMI, alongside medical representatives from Guam, American Samoa, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Delegate Gregorio C. Sablan noted that this hearing started the momentum for the legislation, allowing for a similar hearing by the Health subcommittee to follow in June.

Erwin Encinares | Reporter
Erwin Charles Tan Encinares holds a bachelor’s degree from the Chiang Kai Shek College and has covered a wide spectrum of assignments for the Saipan Tribune. Encinares is the paper’s political reporter.
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