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Redirect $6 million spent on overseas medical care

By Gemma Q. Casas SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, Oct. 5, 2009) –THE chairman of the House Ways & Means Committee said the more than $6.4 million that the U.S. and the CNMI spent to send patients overseas between fiscal years 2007 to 2009 should have been used to improve the facilities at the islands’ only hospital.

Rep. Ray N. Yumul, R-Saipan, said the figure does not include doctors and other professional fees paid to hospitals in the Philippines, Guam, Hawaii and elsewhere, where local patients were medically referred.

He said the cash-strapped CNMI government should consider working with the federal government to improve facilities of the Commonwealth Health Center rather than sending patients off-island which is very costly and endangers their lives while in transit.

Based on records obtained by Yumul, the Medical Referral Office processed 907 patients for FY 2009; 716 in FY 2008; and 565 in FY 2007.

Majority of these patients underwent radiology, oncology and cardiology procedures.

Oncology was the second most common procedure performed among the medical referrals.

"For FY 2009, transportation costs incurred by the Medical Referral Office for patients reached over $1.304 million compared to $505,598.82 in FY 2008 and $450,839.96 in FY 2007," said Yumul in a communication sent to Rep. Ralph DLG. Torres, R-Saipan, who chairs the House Committee on Health, Education and Welfare.

"The increase transportation costs reflects the clear loss of direct air service to Manila from Saipan and the inability of regular air service carriers to transport litter patients, thus, necessitating the need for charter services from companies such as Americopter and Carejet," he added.

Additionally, the federal and CNMI governments spent $144,241.83 for medical escorts of the patients during FY 2009. Family escorts separately incurred expenses of $585,990.78 during the period.

Subsistence allowance was also spent for the patients and their medical or family escorts amounting to over $1.6 million from FY 2007 to FY 2009.

Separate bills for their hotel expenses amounting to $422,100 were shouldered by the local and federal governments in FY 2009.


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