Congressman Faleomavaega announced today that he is responding to Mr. Peseta Dennis Fuimaono Lutu’s letter to the editor published in the Samoa News on Saturday, September 26, 2009, concerning American Samoa’s health care system.
“As the debate on health care reform rages on across the country, it is important also to talk about health care system in our Territory. I thank Mr. Lutu for raising this important issue, and I wish to respond and help inform the general public,” Faleomavaega said.
“As Mr. Lutu, and others in recent letters to the Samoa News editor suggested, our health care system is in bad shape. Problems with access, affordability and quality of care, continue to riddle health care in American Samoa. Fixing these problems requires a major overhaul of the current system. Indeed, in a recent meeting with our Executive Director Ms. Patricia Tindall of LBJ Hospital, she indicated that our whole health care system is ‘fragmented’ and I totally agree with her assessment.”
“As a matter of public record, reforming our health care system has been in the pipeline for some years now. In early 2003, a Task Force was commissioned by the American Samoa Government (ASG) to review the Territory’s health care system and provide decision-makers with policy options to improve health care service for all residents in American Samoa. The underlying intent was to initiate a more informed dialogue on certain critical issues including access to health care, insurance coverage options, and reform initiatives among key stakeholders and decision-makers.”
“Out of this Task Force grew the Coverage for All in American Samoa (CAAS) project. Researchers from the Social Science Research Institute-University of Hawaii (SSRI-UH), the Office of the Governor, American Samoa Medical Center Authority (ASMCA), American Samoa Community College (ASCC), Department of Commerce (DOC) and other local partners, came together to review and provide policy options on the best way to reform health care in American Samoa. Funding for the project, a total of $1.2 million over three years, was provided by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).”
“When the CAAS final report was issued on September 29, 2007, three broad areas of concern were identified. First, the user fees charged by ASMCA are no longer affordable. Second, the quality of services at LBJ Hospital is perceived to be substandard. Finally, certain needs specialized services are not available locally.”
“To address these broad concerns, I fully support the CAAS policy recommendations. Prior to any reform taking place, it is necessary for the Fono and ASG to amend the existing “Free Medical Care” mandate, to reflect the current economics for providing quality health care. As health care costs continue to rise, it is evidently clear that our Territory cannot sustain its “Free Medical Care” mandate. Rather, a more viable and pragmatic approach however is to provide our people access to affordable and quality health care.”
“Therefore, in order to achieve this goal, we have to be innovative and creative in our solutions. The CAAS report recommends several ideas including to: 1) allow Health Savings Account by Law, 2) establish or encourage the use of tax incentive programs, 3) decentralize delivery of health care services in the territory, 4) mandate healthy lifestyle utilizing existing and dormant traditional infrastructure, and 5) develop a comprehensive human capital development policy for the territory.”
“The bottom line is major changes are in order, and the authors and all contributors to the CAAS project should be commended for their work and comprehensive analysis. Nonetheless, it is up to the Fono and ASG to take immediate action and follow through on the CAAS findings and recommendations. Especially, since the federal government has already provided $1.2 million in funding and ASG has expended resources and time to conduct a comprehensive study of the existing health care system.”
“For this reason, in a letter sent June 22, 2009, I wrote members of the Fono reminding them of the CAAS report and the work already in place. I specifically requested that the Fono should hold hearings, and I suggested that the Fono also take advantage of our local experts and those with the experience and understanding of health care issues in our Territory.”
“In these trying times, fixing our health care system remains a critically important issue with our people, and I will continue to work together with our leaders to address your concerns,” Faleomavaega concluded.