NON-RESIDENTS TAKE 51 PERCENT OF NORTHERN MARIANAS’ HEALTH CARE SPENDING: REPORT

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By Zaldy Dandan

SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands (April 2, 1999 - Marianas Variety)---More than half of the CNMI government’s funding for health care is spent on non-residents, a report commissioned by the U.S. Interior Department’s Office of Insular Affairs said.

Prepared by Robert W. Rudolph and James C. Nicholas, the 190-page report said approximately 41 percent of the commonwealth’s existing health care resources is being provided to alien workers, who now outnumber locals, while approximately 10 percent goes to Freely Associated States (FAS) citizens.

Alien workers cost the CNMI $123 million in operating expenses for health care services, while FAS citizens cost $3 million. Capital costs for the health facilities to accommodate non-residents amount to $19.27 million. Of this amount, $3.7 million goes to FAS citizens.

The report said, based on the fiscal year 1999 CNMI budget and information provided by the Department of Finance, the commonwealth needs $44.87 million a year to provide existing health care facilities and services.

Of this amount the CNMI has recovered, at most, $14 million, for a net operating loss of $30.79 million, the report said.

The report said that though the Department of Public Health (DPH) has initiated efforts to collect more fees for medical services it provides, "the present system of collection and accounting has resulted in the collection of very few fees for service…."

Due to the government’s declining revenue collections, DPH will get $33.9 million in FY 2000, Health Secretary Joseph K. Villagomez told reporters Wednesday.

The report, at the same, noted that in FY 1997 the Commonwealth Health Center (CHC) accommodated 5,274 in patients -- 45 percent of whom were locals, 4 percent other Americans and 51 percent non-residents.

The report, which came out before the enactment of the "garment addition" legislation, warned that any further increase in the number of alien workers will lead to a more significant negative impact on the CNMI’s finances.

Proponents of the new law argue that it will lead to more revenues for the cash-strapped government. However, additional alien workers will require additional revenue sources to keep pace with the demand for public facilities and services, the report said.

It added that a significant portion of the $500 million in federal grants received by the CNMI during the past years have largely been spent on facilities and public services required by the increasing number of alien workers.

Hence, the report said an opportunity to raise the quantity and quality of public services for locals was lost.

The proprietor of Rudolph’s restaurant, Rudoph is an environmental land use and economic consultant and was a former administrator of the Coastal Resources Management Office in the 1980s.

Nicholas is a University of Florida professor and world-renowned lecturer and expert in the area of development impact fees and growth management.

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