Ray Tenorio and Lou Leon Guerrero went head-to-head once again in the latest gubernatorial debate hosted Thursday night by the Guam Medical Association at the Hyatt Regency Guam, where they traded accusations and presented vague solutions to heath care problems on Guam.
Tenorio said Leon Guerrero, president of the Bank of Guam, is standing in the way of a capital improvement project at the Guam Memorial Hospital by making it impossible for the government of Guam to acquire a loan from her bank.
Leon Guerrero accused the Calvo administration—which Tenorio has been a part of for seven years — of mismanaging GMH, resulting in facility deterioration and lost accreditation.
The debate, moderated by Dr. Nathan Berg before a cheering crowd at the Hyatt Ballroom, centered on the perennial crisis at GMH, health insurance, general health care and abortion, the latter an emerging election issue in this year’s race.
Responding to the question related to the stalled project to upgrade the hospital’s maternity ward, Tenorio maintained Leon Guerrero’s family-owned bank hindered the project by putting last-minute impossible requirements into the loan being sought by GovGuam. “There is $650 million in government accounts sitting in the Bank of Guam and they wanted guarantee money for the loan,” said the lt. governor, who is the Republican Party’s candidate.
In response, Leon Guerrero said the conditions set by the bank were sanctioned by law and that the administration could have done its part to have it changed.
“(Guam Economic Development Authority) refused to go down to the legislature to amend the law so that it can be done,” the Democratic candidate said. “Why do I know it’s legal? One of the bonds issued had the same condition that the governor has signed.”
Saying Tenorio’s facts “are way from the truth,” Leon Guerrero told her opponent, “Do your research before you start accusing the Bank of Guam — the only bank that has taken the risk to give GMH $27 million — twice.”
If she became governor, Leon Guerrero said she “will find the money” for the maternity ward improvement “because I am the only one here with financial management (skills) and knows how to manage money.”
In a statement released immediately after the debate, Tenorio’s campaign said, “The requirements were put into place prior to her announcing she was running for governor. (Leon Guerrero’s running mate) Josh Tenorio later confirmed that if it were not an election season, the ward would have broken ground already.”
When asked how they would cure the ailing GMH, Tenorio said he would ask the legislature to identify a dedicated funding source. “We are going to fix this problem until we find a dedicated funding source. Then and only then can we fix the financial problem at GMH,” he said.
Leon Guerrero said she would tap the general fund to provide the $30 million needed by the hospital. “I’m not gonna wait for a dedicated funding source. I’m gonna make it a priority to make sure that they deliver patient needs,” she said.
Tenorio reminded her that fiscal task is a function of the legislature.
On the issue of abortion, Tenorio emphasized his conservative pro-life position. “Life begins at conception, period,” he said. “We must protect every life.”
Leon Guerrero, who is known as a pro-choice advocate, dodged the question. “I became a nurse because I love life. I am the only one here who has given birth to life,” she said, continuing with apparently loaded comments the drew a telling reaction from the crowd. “I have raised my children. I have not abandoned my children.”
She suggested that Tenorio’s pro-life stance, and being part of the administration, is a contradiction to statistics of physically and emotionally abused children on Guam. “What has he done to protect the lives of these 3,300 children?”
When Tenorio asked her if she would support pro-life bills should she get elected governor, Leon Guerrero replied, “As I have said, I love life. I am running because I want to improve the quality of life. I am running to make sure that health care is provided to everybody because I love life. I support life.”
On the issue of health insurance coverage for government employees and retirees, the candidates were asked whether they prefer a single or multiple providers.
“We support multiple providers,” Tenorio said “It’s important that the government of Guam employees not be reduced to the cheapest plan and have choices like the GRMC.”
Leon Guerrero said the question should be “How to make healthcare affordable?” The key, she said, is finding a “creative way” to provide a cost-effective plan. “We spend about $126 million in insurance. There should be a better way to make it less costly and less burdensome for the people,” she said.
For the indigent population, Leon Guerrero said, if elected, her administration would “make sure that you don’t lose $11 million in Medicaid money which this administration is at risk of losing next year.”
She said GovGuam receives $200 million in Medicaid funding and she would “make sure that every surplus we have, we will put into health care funding for the indigent patients.”
But Tenorio said “it’s not that simple.” The government has to appropriate money for the 45 percent local match to the 55 percent federal contribution.
As a Republican, he said he would work with the Republican administration in the nation’s capital to remove the Medicaid cap increase the federal contribution “from 55 close to 80-83.”