Guam Hospital Wants Case Brought By Compact Migrant Dismissed

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Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawai‘i

Plaintiff claims US government must pay her bills

By Cameron Miculka

HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, Dec. 24, 2015) – The Guam Memorial Hospital Authority this week asked a federal judge to hold off on deciding a case of whether the federal government is responsible for the medical costs of regional migrants.

The documents were filed in response to Tarin Atesom’s request that Chief Judge Frances Tydingco-Gatewood grant her summary judgment in the case.

Atesom is suing the Guam Memorial Hospital Authority for garnishing her tax refund to pay for outstanding debts to the hospital, but Atesom’s attorney has argued that it’s the federal government’s responsibility to pay the costs associated with migrants who come to Guam under the Compacts of Free Association. She has filed for summary judgment in the case.

The hospital is asking the case be dismissed.

The Compact, which is a federal treaty, allows residents of the Republic of the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia and the Republic of Palau to live and work in Guam and elsewhere in the United States.

Guam has been the primary destination for most Compact migrants, followed by Hawaii.

In their latest filing, the hospital reasserted that the issue is a "contractual dispute," not one of citizenship and the responsibilities of the federal government.

Prejudice

The hospital also countered Atesom’s earlier claim that the hospital "likely knew" the woman would be unable to afford her bills when she signed a guarantee of payment.

"Defendants are uncomfortable with the suggestion that they should have utilized a prejudice and known by virtue of plaintiff’s appearance that she ‘could not afford to pay hospital bills,’" the hospital’s attorneys wrote.

They added that the plaintiff’s nationality is not an issue, noting that there are migrants who pay their bills and U.S. citizens who don’t.

The hospital, they wrote, doesn’t discriminate in providing care or in collecting owed debts.

Furthermore, they said Atesom’s argument is that the feds are required to pay costs incurred by regional migrants.

"Is plaintiff suggesting that the federal government reimburse expenses for groceries, clothing and legal fees as well?" they wrote. "This is not the intent of (the) Compact of Free Association."

Ultimately, they said, Atesom is personally responsible for paying her own bills and her argument "does a disservice to the responsible citizens of the (Federated States of Micronesia)."

The hospital’s attorneys also reiterated their position that Atesom failed to comply with the proper procedure for a claim against the government and that the federal court has jurisdiction over the case.

In an order filed Wednesday, Tydingco-Gatewood referred the hospital’s motion to dismiss the case to the court’s magistrate judge, who will give a report and recommendation on the matter.

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