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Officials insist no patients refused despite budget problems

By Fili Sagapolutele PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, Feb.2 ,2012) – Although the LBJ Medical Center in American Samoa is hiking facility fees next week, hospital officials insisted that LBJ will not turn away any emergency cases or women in labor no matter what their financial situation.

This statement made to lawmakers last month was reiterated last Thursday when the hospital informed Gov. Togiola Tulafono that LBJ intends to go ahead with the new rate hikes effective Feb. 6.

Attached to the letter was a copy of the hospital’s credit and collection policies, dated July 2011 and Samoa News understands these policies were approved by the board of directors last summer.

"Patients with medical emergencies and women in labor will always be seen and treated before there is any discussion regarding financial issues," the policy states and describes a medical emergency as a medial condition manifesting itself by acute symptoms of sufficient severity — including severe pain — such that the absence of immediate medical attention could reasonably be expected to result in placing patient’s health in serious jeopardy.

According to LBJ officials, the presence of a medical emergency for a patient will be determined by the emergency department at LBJ.

Regarding patients who are not financially able to pay for their care, LBJ says these individuals may apply to the LBJ Patient Financial Services Department for inclusion in the Sliding Scale Program. A financial evaluation will be performed and the patient will be asked only to pay that portion of their bill that is required under the Sliding Scale Program.

(LBJ officials testified two weeks ago in the House that patients will be explained this program, which has been in place for some time now.)

As for non-emergency patients who are financially able to pay for the care they will receive, these individuals are required to pay for those services before they are rendered, according to LBJ policies.

Additionally, patients who are financially able to pay for the care they receive and have an unpaid balance for services previously rendered will be required to pay at least 10 percent of the balance owed and 100 percent of the cost of services they seek before those services are rendered.

[PIR editor’s note: American Samoa Senator Galea'i Tu'ufuli has claimed the government does not take the financial crisis facing the LBJ hospital seriously during discussion over a proposal to provide for budgeting problems. Earlier in the week, a bill to give the hospital a $3 million "loan" taken out of government monies met with substantial opposition to the terms of the law, which included wage taxes on all workers in the territory in order to assist the hospital.]

The 10 percent balance owed to be paid from a previous debt, was one of the complaints called into lawmakers, who sought an explanation from LBJ officials during a House hearing two weeks ago. Some members of the public said they were surprised to learn about this policy when visiting the hospital in early January.

LBJ chief financial officer Viola Babcock told House members that this policy was approved by the board last summer, but was never enforced because the staff needed to undergo training for the enforcement of the 10 percent collection policy.

She reiterated that the hospital still offers a sliding scale fee for patients who are unable to pay their bill, which will forgive a portion or all of the old debt based on the person’s income. She encouraged those patients to see staff at the hospital for more information and a thorough explanation.

According to LBJ’s policy, total charges for any single pediatric outpatient will be limited to $50 per day and the Prenatal Program will continue to wave the delivery fee as long as all of the conditions of participation are satisfied.

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