July 11, 2012
The announcement that Medicaid benefits are being cut brings additional hardship to a huge population of CNMI citizens, perhaps the majority. In a locale where the minimum wage is $4.05 an hour, far below the federal poverty level, a vast number of residents qualify for food stamps and Medicaid benefits. The impact will be devastating.
According to The Saipan Tribune:
The optional services that will be cut are clinic services, optometry services, other practitioner services, dental, physical therapy, occupational therapy; speech, hearing, and language disorders; prescribed drugs, dentures, prosthetic devices, eyeglasses, wheelchair, medical supplies, rehabilitative services, and transportation to off-island facility.Every state and territory has to provide a match for Medicaid funding. The CNMI has a 45% match, but because of poor budgeting and financial failure, it has not identified the needed funds to reimburse numerous clinics and healthcare providers for their Medicaid bills. The CNMI Government has an estimated $15 million outstanding debt to medical care providers both in the CNMI and off-island. PHI Pharmacy alone is owed $1 million. The majority of the Medicaid vendors last received payments in 2011.
The CNMI Government reportedly also owes back pay and housing allowances to medical personnel and has outstanding debts to medical supply companies. Since the CNMI government has no plans to raise revenue and refuses to impose any sales or property taxes, it is likely that the government's debts will continue to balloon out of control until no bill can be paid whether to a health care provider, the NMI Retirement Fund, CUC, PSS or any other agency.
The uncertainty and instability of the healthcare system in the CNMI is dangerously out of control. The CNMI Senate is questioning Medicaid Administrator Helen Sablan and Finance Secretary Larrisa Larson on claims that CNMI medicaid providers are "over billing". The CNMI should also expect an investigation by federal officials.