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Medical referral program is always underfunded, says director

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THE medical referral program is always underfunded, its director Ronald Sablan said.

“We incur a deficit in the first month of the fiscal year,” he added. “Normally, about 22 percent of our requested budget is appropriated. For example, if we requested $15 million, they will give us $2 million. So we are into deficit right away.”

For FY2020, Sablan said they asked for $18 million, but only $2.2 million was appropriated.

“We don’t tell patients to go off-island — a referral is based on their medical condition. Our main purpose is to send people off-island based on their medical condition that cannot be treated locally.”

Sablan said his office tries its best to minimize costs, but the lack of a utilization review makes it difficult to monitor the patients’ ongoing treatments.”

In 2019, he said, they referred 1,997 patients to off-island hospitals for a total cost of about $15 million.

Whenever they submit a budget request, Sablan said they use their most current data. “If there are more patients, then the cost will go up,” he added.

To provide funding for medical referrals, Sablan said “the governor uses his reprogramming authority to transfer funds from other departments to cover medical referral costs.”

Sablan said if medical referrals are “properly budgeted,” there would be no need to reprogram funds.

But again, he added, “we have always been underfunded.”

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