Congressman Faleomavaega announced today that he has been working closely with the other Territorial Delegates, including Congresswoman Madeleine Bordallo and Congresswoman Donna Christensen, to increase funding for Medicaid in the insular areas. Last week, the Delegates cosponsored an amendment to the Labor, Health and Education appropriations and, as part of an agreement, withdrew the amendment with the understanding that Chairman Joe Barton of the Energy Committee and Chairman Dan Burton of the Government Reform Committee would continue working with the insular areas to provide temporary relief for FY05 until a more permanent fix could be considered in the 109th Congress.
“During the 108th Congress, I introduced H.R. 1188, a bill to amend the Social Security Act to provide for American Samoa treatment under the Medicaid Program similar to that provided to States. Like most Medicaid issues, the bill has been tabled until the 109th Congress when it is expected that Medicaid will undergo major reform. In the interim, Congresswoman Bordallo and I worked to include provisions for the insular areas in the Tax Act of 2003 and, as a result, American Samoa received about a 5.9% increase or about $460,000 in Medicaid payments,” Congressman Faleomavaega said.
“However, an increase of a half a million dollars is not enough. It is not enough for American Samoa and it is not enough for the other insular areas. Like American Samoa, all other insular areas including Guam, CNMI, the Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico have federal ceilings in place that cap the amount of federal assistance they can receive under the Medicaid program. Although I have introduced legislation to specifically address American Samoa’s needs, and although the other Territories have also asked Congress to intervene in their behalf, Congress has hesitated to assist us because of Puerto Rico’s population.”
“Puerto Rico has a population of almost 4 million,” the Congressman continued. “American Samoa, Guam, CNMI and the U.S. Virgin Islands have populations which range from 60,000 to 150,000. Federal costs to reduce the match and increase the Medicaid ceiling for Pacific Island Territories and the U.S. Virgin Islands would be minimal. However, to assist Puerto Rico, Congress would have to shell out billions of dollars per year in Medicaid reimbursements and this has been the problem.”
“Time and time again, Congress has hesitated to assist the Pacific Island Territories and the U.S. Virgin Islands for fear this might open the door for increased Medicaid benefits to Puerto Rico. However, there are distinct differences between Puerto Rico and the other insular areas and we have asked Chairman Barton and Chairman Burton to consider these differences.”
“In the case of American Samoa, our per capita income is about $4,500 per year and our private sector economy is more than 80% dependent on the U.S. tuna fishing and processing industries. More than 56% of American Samoa’s population lives below the poverty level. While there is a tremendous amount of work that must be done to address the inequity that currently exists in the way we provide for the healthcare needs of the insular areas, I am appreciative of Chairman Barton and Chairman Burton’s commitment to find us temporary relief for FY05.”
“Based on our discussion, and according to our agreement, it is my understanding that, if possible, Guam and the Virgin Islands will receive a $2.5 million increase, American Samoa will receive a $2 million increase and CNMI will receive $1 million for a total of $8 million for the insular areas for FY05.”
“Based on these figures, Chairman Barton asked the Members representing the insular areas to provide him with a list of our most critical needs. In American Samoa’s case, I am requesting $1 million to upgrade and develop a potable water system for the villages of Tau and Faleasao. The lack of sanitary water poses a serious health risk to children and adults and I am hopeful that the Chairman will support this request,” Faleomavaega said.
“I am also requesting $400,000 to upgrade the dispensary on the island of Tau, Manua. I have informed Chairman Barton that the LBJ Medical Center in American Samoa is the only medical facility in the U.S. Territory and is located on the main island of Tutuila. The island of Manu’a lies 60 miles away and can only be accessed by ferry or plane. Transportation is costly and unreliable leaving many residents without adequate access to health care. Funding to upgrade the dispensary will improve the quality of health care for residents of American Samoa living on the island of Tau.”
“Finally, I have requested $600,000 to improve the nurses program at the American Samoa Community College. Again, the LBJ Tropical Medical Center in American Samoa is the only medical facility in the U.S. Territory and is located on the main island of Tutuila. LBJ has few qualified staff and only three MDs trained in the U.S. Nurses and medical officers are in need of advanced training and funding for this project will improve the quality of health care for more than 60,000 residents of American Samoa.”
“Once again, I want to thank Chairman Barton and Chairman Burton for working with us to address the health care disparities in United States Pacific Island Territories. I am appreciative of their commitment to provide us with temporary relief for FY05 and I am also pleased that they have agreed to consider a more permanent fix in the 109th Congress,” the Congressman concluded.