NON-U.S. DIALYSIS PATIENTS HEAVY DRAIN ON CNMI

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Individual expenses tally $4,000 every two weeks

By Moneth Deposa SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Oct. 20, 2011) - For many years now, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) has been spending millions of dollars to treat dialysis patients who are non-U.S. citizens and could not afford to pay their bills, according to Public Health Secretary Joseph Kevin Villagomez yesterday.

Of the 115 patients being treated at the hospital's hemodialysis center, 20 are nationals of different countries and have no insurance and capability to pay for their treatment, Villagomez said, forcing the department to absorb the cost.

He disclosed that the individual expenses of these nonresident patients amount to about US$4,000 per patient every two weeks. Majority of them, he said, have been on dialysis for a long time now.

Turning these patients away is not an option, though. "These are the folks who come to our hospital to seek treatment and because we are bound by the Constitution, we cannot turn them away. We embrace the duty of providing them the proper care they need," he told Saipan Tribune.

CHC, for now, is only making collections on patients covered by the Medicaid program or covered by insurance firms, he said.

He prefers it if other concerned agencies could come up with plan that will help reduce the government's expenses-including that for the nonresident dialysis patients. "We prefer other sectors to address those issues," he added.

Despite the government's tough finances, he said the department is focused on the delivery of services rather than the costs being incurred by the patient.

Esther Muña, deputy secretary for hospital administration, estimates the expenses incurred by these nonresident dialysis patients at US$1.1 million yearly, a portion of which they will try to recover from Medicare.

Like in many public hospitals in the U.S., Muña wants to initiate a "charity care assistance" program, expanding on the current Medically Indigent Assistance Program, which provides free or reduced charge care to patients who receive inpatient and outpatient services.

In many states, the charity care assistance program is availed of by patients who have no health insurance coverage or have coverage that pays only part of the bill and meet both the income and assets liability criteria of the program.

"By providing adequate data of Charity Care, CHC can report it in the annual Medicare Care Cost Report and receive credit for providing services for those unable to pay. The whole purpose is to continue providing the treatment the patients need," she said.

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