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  • By Pacific island Times News Staff

$360 million Medicaid fix advances

The bill with $360 million for the Marianas Medicaid program and significant improvements in the local match requirement moved out of the Energy and Commerce Committee Wednesday.

The Committee agreed to bundle the Territories Health Care Improvement Act together with legislation extending community health centers, such as the Kagman Community Health Center, through fiscal year 2023. Also added was a third bill, the No Surprises Act, which protects patients who unknowingly receive expensive care from doctors not in the patient’s insurance network.

Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone (D-New Jersey) said he was “particularly proud of the Committee’s work to reauthorize funding for Community Health Centers and to provide long-term Medicaid funding for Puerto Rico and the U.S. territories.” Pallone also looked forward to a vote of the full House soon.

For the Marianas the Health Care Improvement Act will provide $60 million each year for 6 years for the low-income Medicaid health insurance program. Currently, the Marianas gets a fixed block grant, $6.7 million in fiscal 2019. This is a nine-fold increase, better than any other area receives in the Act.

The Marianas has also been using $109 million provided in the 2010 Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. Those funds were exhausted in March, but Congressman Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan added $36 million for Marianas Medicaid with a floor amendment to the disaster recovery bill in January. That money, along with another $8.2 million that Sablan worked to release from the Department of Health and Human Services in April, has kept the program running.

The Commonwealth Healthcare Center and most private doctors depend on Medicaid insurance payments to stay in business. Some 16,000 U.S. citizens rely on the program for their health care.

No local match required during recovery and austerity.

The Territories Health Care Improvement Act makes important changes in the Marianas’ local match for federal Medicaid money. The $36 million that Sablan put in the disaster recovery bill requires no local match. That zero local match continues in fiscal years 2020 and 2021 under the legislation reported by Energy and Commerce this week.

In 2022, 2023, and 2024, the Marianas and other insular areas will have to come up with a 17 percent match. In 2025 the match will be 24 percent, the same as the best local match of federal funds offered to any U.S. state.

“Zero local match in 2019, 2020, and 2021 will take pressure off of Commonwealth government resources,” Congressman Sablan noted. “This is particularly good news given the current government austerity, as the economy recovers from last year’s typhoons and with the revenue drop from the tourism and gambling sectors.

“The Commonwealth budgeted $4.64 million for Medicaid matching last year. That money can all be saved now and for the next two years. It can be used to repair schools or for other recovery efforts.”

Sablan thanked Chairman Pallone and all the members of the Committee. They approved the Territories Health Care Improvement Act by voice vote. “The bipartisan support is exactly what we need to be successful on the floor of the House and then in the Senate,” Sablan said.

“Putting our bill together with community health centers, which are very popular on both sides of the aisle, and with surprise billing, another area of bipartisan agreement, also really helps our chances of getting this six-year Medicaid package signed into law.”


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