CNMI Hospital Program Provides Lower Treatment Fees

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CHC’s ‘Sliding Fee’ discounts range from 25% to 100%

By Moneth Deposa

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Nov. 26, 2013) – Low-income families in the CNMI who are worried about the high cost of medical treatment for their loved ones can heave a sigh of relief as the Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. (CHC) now has a new program that provides treatment at a reduced rate or no cost at all for eligible recipients.

Corporation interim CEO Esther Muna told Saipan Tribune that the new initiative, called "Sliding Fee" program, is now being offered at the public hospital.

Saipan Tribune learned that as of yesterday, there are more than 200 individuals under the program’s list and the number continues to grow each day. It was in October last year when the CHCC initially started the program but it was only fully implemented some three months ago.

According to Muna, recipients under the sliding program can avail discounted rates on hospital and service fees ranging from 25 percent to 100 percent, depending on the assessment and recommendation conducted on each patient. The corporation raised its fees up to 300 percent starting in August last year.

"The rate [in the sliding fee] depends on family income and expenditure. We have a system where we’re taking their eligibility," explained Muna, admitting that since the program’s full operation, a significant growth was observed on the volume of its recipients.

Prior to the establishment of sliding fee program, CHC had been operating the MIAP program, or the Medically Indigent Assistance Plan program which provides assistance to non-insured indigents by providing discounted rates on their prescription drugs as determined by the corporation.

MIAP funding is from the compact impact money provided to the CNMI yearly, which covers citizens of the Federated States of Micronesia. However, because of the limited resources and austerity measures implemented at CHC, its MIAP office has been closed since late 2011. Since its closure, many indigents who used to avail of the program’s service have been affected because they were not able to process their renewals while some did not receive any update on their pending applications due to its sudden closure.

There were hundreds of recipients under the MIAP program when it closed down.

Unlike the MIAP program, the new "sliding fee" program can be availed by anyone provided they are resident of the Commonwealth at least for one year. This also covers contract workers and their families living on island.

Corporation acting chief financial officer Cora Ada explained yesterday that to avail of the program’s benefit, a form must be filled out with corresponding required documentations. Using the adopted "scale" for the program, an applicant could avail 25 percent, 50 percent, 80 percent, and 100 percent discount depending on the recommendation of the program supervisor.

According to Ada, the current statistics of the sliding fee program is vital in the electronic health record incentive calculation of the hospital. The Electronic Health Record is a federally funded project that provides incentives to the hospital for the project’s meaningful use.

This means that incentive for CHCC, from the EHR project, may potentially increase because of the enforcement of the sliding fee program for low-income families on island.

A staffer from the program yesterday confirmed to Saipan Tribune that from the over 200 individuals under the program, majority are availing the 100 percent discount on hospital fees at CHC.

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