Micronesian Leaders Talk Climate Change, Health Care Costs

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Chief Executives Summit wraps up on Saipan

By Haidee V. Eugenio

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Dec. 9, 2013) – Seeking ways to address climate change and rising health costs, along with renewed commitment to work together as a group of islands, helped wrap up on Friday a three-day summit that brought together Micronesian presidents and governors on Saipan.

"While we have actively discussed our concerns on a host of issues, one of them stands out as the most common concern we share as a region: climate change," CNMI Gov. Eloy S. Inos said at the conclusion of the 19th Micronesian Chief Executives Summit at Fiesta Resort & Spa in Garapan on Friday.

Federated States of Micronesia President Emanuel Mori, Palau President Tommy Remengesau, Marshall Islands President Christopher J. Loeak, Guam Gov. Eddie Calvo, Yap Gov. Sebastian L. Anefal, Pohnpei Gov. John Ehsa, Chuuk Attorney General Sabino Asor representing Gov. Johnson S. Elimo, and Kosrae Lt. Gov. Carson Sigrah also took turns espousing the need for more global action on climate change, among other things.

They were one in saying that tiny Micronesian islands bear the brunt of climate change impacts—from rising seas and disappearing coastlines, to dying crops and displacements of islanders—yet they are the least contributor, if at all, to carbon emissions.

Anefal, one of the longest members of the MCES, said the developed nations that are the main carbon emission sources should help fund Micronesian islands as they cope with climate change.

Inos, for his part, said Micronesian islands "must continue our partnership with each other to demand action against large carbon emission producing nations devastatingly contributing to climate change and adversely impacting our fragile island communities."

"We are already seeing significant effects of climate change in our islands, our shorelines, and our coral reef ecosystems," said Inos, chairman of the 19th MCES.

The island leaders reiterated their support to Guam Gov. Eddie B. Calvo as he takes on the duties and responsibilities of being an appointed member of the presidential task force on climate preparedness and resilience.

"I am glad that we are all ready to support Governor Calvo with the necessary tools he will need to defend our cause in his capacity as a member of the President’s Task Force on Climate Change. We cannot let this opportunity pass us by. We cannot do it alone. Our governments must craft and implement sound policies," Inos said.

In turn, according to Inos, Micronesian governments, nongovernment organizations, businesses and communities must support and invest in technologies that focus on energy efficiency, energy conservation, and clean, renewable energy sources that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Regional health insurance plan

Association of Pacific Island Legislatures president and Guam Speaker Judith Won Pat, along with StayWell Insurance-CNMI operations manager Eric Plinske, briefed island leaders on ongoing efforts to provide universal health insurance to Micronesian islands to lower the costs.

This comes at a time when the CNMI is facing 30- to 45-percent increase in health insurance premiums for government employees and retirees unless the government finds innovative ways to keep the costs affordable yet still meet members’ needs.

The Inos administration expects the government’s health insurance cost to increase to some $25 million in fiscal year 2014, from $18 million in fiscal year 2013.

One proposal that the government is considering is to require persons living in the U.S. mainland to enroll in U.S.-sponsored health care exchange programs because they would be more affordable to retirees.

All of the proposals for coverage that the CNMI government has received call for cost increases and reduced benefits.

Current provider Aetna did not participate in the latest government request for proposals for health insurance.

Plinske of StayWell, one of the two bidders for government health insurance coverage, cited the advantages of having a regional health plan, including a greater bargaining power if there are more members enrolled.

He said there will also be a unified health plan benefits across the region, pre-authorization and utilization management, lower administrative costs, centralized claims adjudication and technology to improve efficiency and continuity of care, among other things.

Won Pat and Plinske also talked about the opening of a new $219-million, 130-bed Guam Regional Medical City in 2014.

‘Solutions, not problems’

In his closing remarks as MCES chair, Inos said that, while it’s true that it is people who make the difference, people also create problems.

"As leaders of our communities, let us exert our energies on crafting sensible solutions, not problems. We must make the difference, not just accept the status quo," he added.

Palau’s Remengesau reiterated the summit’s theme: "The oceans don’t divide us, it unites us."

The CNMI governor also recognized the efforts of the Micronesia Challenge, and how the region is leading the way in protecting nearshore marine and terrestrial resources "which encompass a large part of addressing the impacts of climate change."

He thanked his fellow Micronesian chief executives, along with the rest of their delegations and other participants, for taking the time to visit Saipan. Inos also thanked the committee members and organizations that contributed to this year’s summit.

The next Micronesian Chief Executives Summit will be held in Yap in the FSM.

After the signing of resolutions and communiqués, the Micronesian leaders also took turns presenting gifts to each other. The most elaborate offering was from individuals from American Samoa led by Dr. Failautusi "Tusi" Avegalio, who said the spirits of their ancestors won’t be at peace until they offer sincere thanks to leaders of Micronesia that served as refuges for Samoans during the war.

The three-day summit, which started on Wednesday, saw at least 13 presentations that also covered telecommunications, education, tourism, workforce, energy, transportation, shark protection, invasive species, and biosecurity.

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