Rota Mayor Efraim M. Atalig believes that transferring the Medical Referral Program from the Office of the Governor to the Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. would lessen the involvement of politicians in the decision-making process as to who and why a patient needs to be referred off-island.
In his testimony at a public hearing on Rota before the House Committee on Health and Welfare, Atalig also asked the Legislature to consider appropriating funds for dialysis equipment and personnel needed to operate a dialysis program on Rota.
The committee, which Rep. Christina E. Sablan (D-Saipan) chairs, held a public hearing on Rota last May 6 as part of hearings in the CNMI to review the Commonwealth’s medical referral program and examine how the program may be reformed to improve services, streamline costs, and enhance accountability.
Sablan also conducted a hearing on Tinian last May 10. She will hold a similar hearing on Saipan this Friday at 3:30pm in the House chamber. She will then continue the hearing next Wednesday, May 26, at 3:30pm in the same venue.
In his testimony, Atalig said that medical referral decisions would be better made by medical professionals. “I am sure my fellow politicians would feel relieved that we would be out of the loop because less referral would occur if CHCC would make decisions relating to referrals,” he said.
If this transfer to CHCC happens, Atalig said, the government would lessen its budget deficit because fewer referrals would occur if CHCC would make the referral decisions.
With respect to interisland medical referrals, Atalig pointed out a section in Public Law 19-78 specifies that CHCC shall operate a healthcare system that includes the Commonwealth Health Center, the Rota Health Center, the Women’s Clinic, Tinian Health Center, the Children’s Clinic, and the Community Guidance Center. Nowhere in this public law is it mentioned that if a patient is referred from Tinian or Rota to CHCC, the responsibility of CHCC ends, he said. “All reasonable expenses of a referral should be borne by CHCC,” Atalig added.
He said the municipalities of Rota and Tinian spend a big chunk of their budget in supplementing the interisland referral by providing ground transportation and associated costs of maintaining vehicles. In addition, municipalities maintain the facilities in which the patients are housed, he said.
Atalig said all referral employees are under the respective mayor’s offices, which is a major portion of the office’s budget.
Atalig said the notion that since government revenue from Rota is minimal, budget appropriation should be made accordingly, not minding that it is the obligation of the central government to provide equitable service to all CNMI citizens.
Atalig underscored the need to operate a dialysis program on Rota, saying that many of their interisland referrals are for dialysis on Saipan. He said those patients endure hardship because they have to leave their loved ones to undergo dialysis on Saipan.
“Most of these patients, if not all, prefer to spend the twilight years of their lives on their home island,” said Atalig.
He noted that the structure of this dialysis program is already in place. “I know that a dialysis progress is not cheap, but we cannot place a price tag on the value of having our unfortunate citizens feel that their leaders are concerned about their welfare,” Atalig said.