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By Haidee V. Eugenio

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, Nov. 24) – Indigent patients belonging to the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Medicaid program numbered a record 10,554 in fiscal year 2005 and incurred over US$4.77 million in debt to the Commonwealth Health Center due to lack of funding, Variety learned.

This was the first time that Medicaid membership exceeded the 10,000-mark, which further strains the resources of the Health Center.

It also marked an 8 percent increase over fiscal year 2004 Medicaid membership of 9,758.

Helen Sablan, administrator of Medicaid, yesterday disclosed that the program spent over US$10.2 million in fiscal year 2005 for the over 10,000 members. However, the program received only about US$2.3 million for the same period.

The local government matched this federal funding with the same amount for a total of US$4.7 million. This resulted in an estimated US$5.2 million in Medicaid spending that was not covered by local or federal funding.

Sablan said most of this was owed to the Commonwealth Health Center for the medical treatment of the over 10,000 Medicaid patients.

"The funding we receive is not enough for the expenses we have," said Sablan.

Medicaid also owes private vendors for medical services.

"Commonwealth Health Center billed us US$4,776,334 for services in fiscal year 2005," said Sablan.

The cumulative debt of Medicaid to the Health Center has yet to be released.

"The funding cannot cope with the yearly increase in Medicaid members," Sablan added.

She said the federal government provided US$2,480,000 in funding to the Medicaid program for fiscal year 2006.

Most of the additional federal funding received by Medicaid, including funds from the Children’s Insurance Program, or CHIP, goes to the Health Center.

CHIP can only be tapped once the federal funding for Medicaid is maximized.

But the amount annually received by the CNMI from CHIP is minimal.

The Medicaid program assists low-income families and individuals and is funded both by federal and state governments throughout the U.S. and its territories and commonwealths.

November 24, 2005

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