CNMI Looking To Mitigate Impact Of Obamacare

admin's picture

Private-sector to be provided incentives to provide health insurance

By Emmanuel T. Erediano

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, Nov. 11, 2013) – The Inos administration is working closely with the Legislature to draft a bill that will mitigate the impact of the federal Affordable Care Act’s implementation in the commonwealth by giving private-sector employers incentives to provide insurance to their workers.

But Speaker Joseph P. Deleon Guerrero said the bill will be controversial and may not get the support of all lawmakers.

A day before he resigned, then-Gov. Benigno R. Fitial on Feb. 19, 1913 signed a measure, P.L. 17-92, scrapping benefits, including healthcare, that were provided to nonresident workers, saying these were no longer necessary due to the extension of the federal minimum wage law to the islands.

On Friday, Commerce Secretary Sixto K. Igisomar, who is also the CNMI insurance commissioner, and advocacy officer for the consumer-assistance program Kaitlyn Neises Mocanu, met with Speaker Joseph P. Deleon Guerrero, IR-Saipan, to discuss the proposed healthcare legislation.

Also at the meeting were House Commerce Committee Chairman Edmund S. Villagomez, Covenant-Saipan, and Health and Welfare Committee Chairman Tony R. Agulto, IR-Saipan.

Mocanu said the measure may be called the "employer responsibility bill" which aims to require certain employers to offer employer-sponsored insurance.

But it has not been decided which employers will need to offer insurance and what percentage of the premium they will need to cover.

Mocanu said they are considering incentives for employers so they will provide insurance coverage. These incentives will include tax credits or subsidies. She said it is important that the measure works for employers as well.

She said the bill will "mirror" the employer-responsibility portion of the Affordable Care Act also known as Obamacare, "basically to help fill in the ‘gaps’ in how the law applies to the CNMI."

"The goal is to slash the [number of] uninsured…in the CNMI," she added.

She did not say how the local economy, which is still recovering from a 15-year economic downturn, can afford the proposed new mandate.

Igisomar said the still undrafted bill is basically a mitigation effort.

"It is part of effort of the governor’s office and the Legislature, the Department of Commerce and the CNMI insurance commissioner’s office to find a way to mitigate the ACA impact," he said. ACA, he added, will be implemented here. It is federal law and it is in effect.

So the proposed bill will "balance" the impact of the ACA on both the insurers and the carriers.

He noted that President Obama’s intention is to ensure every citizen is covered.

"And we are all for that. Unfortunately there are some issues and we are here to mitigate so it does not get out of control," he added.

Igisomar told lawmakers that health insurance carriers will pull out if the CNMI does not come up with something that will mitigate the impact of ACA.

"I am going full force in the implementation [of ACA] but I will do what I can to mitigate the impact," he told the speaker.

But Deleon Guerrero told Igisomar and Mocanu that the bill they are proposing will not be easy to pass.

One of the main concerns is the possibility of an increase in the cost of premiums. How high it would go up is a question that needs answering "before we can have this bill," the speaker said.

This discussion reminded Deleon Guerrero of the Legislature’s lack of an economist or a budget analyst.

Nevertheless, the speaker said they will be meeting with all the stakeholders once they start drafting the measure.

Good for employers

Mocanu said it is good for employers when their employees are healthy.

"Fewer sick days, more productive work and higher employee morale are some of the ways that providing health insurance benefits the employer," she said.

The purpose of the bill, she reiterated, is get more people insured.

The uninsured rate in the CNMI is more than double what it is in the U.S. It was 34 percent in 2010, but probably much higher now after the enactment of P.L. 17-92.

Mocanu said more insured people in the CNMI means lower premiums for everyone and a stronger healthcare system. It will also reduce the burden on CHC and the government to make up for those who cannot pay their hospital bills.

"Healthcare coverage is especially important in the CNMI because of the very high rate of non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and hypertension. These diseases are preventable and now, under the ACA, preventive care is covered for free with most health insurance plans," she said.

She also noted that insurance companies have an interest in keeping people healthy, as it is vastly more efficient and cost-effective to prevent these NCDs than to treat them, not to mention preventing the harm and trauma that these diseases inflict on families.

During last week’s House session, Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. officials told lawmakers that the vast majority of CNMI residents are indirectly or directly affected by NCDs.

Mocanu said both individual and employer responsibilities to buy insurance "are a crucial part of the sustainability of the new health care reform."

"Although the ‘responsibility’ provisions are not extended to the territories, strict new rules for insurance companies do apply to the CNMI, and without more people getting health insurance, the insurance industry in the CNMI could suffer and eventually disappear. As a health care consumer advocate I don’t want to see the CNMI insurance industry collapse; that’s clearly not good for the consumer or the CNMI," Mocanu said.

Rate this article: 
No votes yet

Add new comment