Gov. Lourdes Leon Guerrero on Monday endorsed a sweeping health care plan that would provide every Guam resident a means for coverage through a “public self-insurance” program.
In her state of the island address to the 35th Guam Legislature, Leon Guerrero said providing affordable health care on Guam will complement her plan to build a new medical facility that will back up the Guam Memorial Hospital.
“This will become the primary focus of my policy team in the coming year, and I ask every one of you to join them in their work,” the governor told senators. “It will require study, private sector ingenuity, and community courage, but together we will get it done.”
While details of the proposed plan remain unclear, Leon Guerrero said coverage would be provided through existing provider networks and will offer comprehensive health services.
“The funding for this self insurance plan will require us to pool every dollar the government spends on healthcare,” the governor said, urging the legislature “to start the task of ensuring universal health coverage on Guam.”
In principle, a universal health care system provides medical services to all citizens. The government offers it to everyone regardless of their ability to pay and most universal health care is funded by general income taxes or payroll taxes.
About 32,465 Guam residents, or 21 percent of the island population, don’t have health insurance coverage, while 35,559 individuals were enrolled in Medicaid as of 2017, according to government statistics.
The uninsured sector of the island's population makes up the largest chunk of GMH's customer base.
“The government of Guam currently spends around $330 million on GMH, Medicaid, Public Health, and the GovGuam health insurance plan,” said Leon Guerrero, a former nurse. “Yet every day, people teeter on the edge of bankruptcy, praying that one illness doesn’t break them or their families.”
On an island ravaged by diabetes, the governor said, “patients are being forced to ration their insulin because the price of this lifeline on which so many depend has increased by an average of 55 percent since 2014.”
As for the plan to build a new hospital and public health facility, the governor said several public and private financing options are available.
“This will take planning, and the option we choose will be driven by our government’s financial health, the amount that needs to be raised, our partnerships with the private sector, and the comprehensiveness of the plan we propose,” she said.
But first, she said, the plan called for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ in-depth analysis of GMH, the albatross of every administration.
“While their final report is due shortly, we know that repairs to GMH alone will cost between $20 million to $30 million,” Leon Guerrero said.
“But a hospital without health insurance is like a boat on dry land. We must also prioritize accessible, available, and affordable health insurance, not just for the fortunate, or for those who can qualify for it, but healthcare for all—as a human right,” she added.
The governor also promised to advocate for decreased claim review periods and quicker access to services for Guam veterans.
“I am also pressing for the use of under-utilized Department of Defense facilities for our veterans regardless of their years of service. And yes, that includes medical care at the Naval Hospital,” she said.