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Governor apologizes for fee hikes at LBJ; tells voters to elect new legislators

fili@samoanews.com

Gov. Togiola Tulafono used his weekend radio program to offer a public apology to the community over the new facility rate hikes at LBJ Medical Center due to take affect May 21, while also suggesting that voters change their lawmakers in the Fono, and elect ones that will vote on measures beneficial to the territory, such as  bills to provide funding to LBJ.

The governor ended up talking about the LBJ proposed fee hikes after the issue was raised by a caller, who voiced her sadness that the hospital is again taking this action. The governor told her that LBJ has no other choice.

After apologizing to the public about the upcoming fee hikes, the governor explained that the original fee hike earlier this year by the hospital was later reversed to allow his office and the Fono to work on additional financial aid legislation for the hospital with an increase in certain excise tax and business licenses fees — which would be paid by everyone in the territory.

Togiola maintains that this would have been the best way to have everyone pay their fair share of funding for LBJ instead of individually paying high hospital fees, which will be a real burden for the community seeking medical assistance.

Togiola says LBJ is not a private medical center — it’s a government-owned public facility and despite any other arguments about funding, in the end it’s the government that will need to provide funds for the hospital — and those funds come from government revenue.

If there is no new revenue to assist the government with this service, he said, then ASG will reach out to the public, through increased taxes and fees that will go directly to help the hospital, he said, noting it is spreading the burden throughout the community, with no one individual burdened with paying the needed services.

However, according to the governor, the problem the administration encountered is that local companies were opposed to the taxes and other business fee hikes as a funding source for the financial aid packages and businesses claimed that it would increase their cost of goods, and also be a burden to the community.

Togiola says this is always the argument from the private sector, because they want more sales with higher profits. He also said that the proposed taxes and business fees to help the hospital is something that the private sector is not paying at all, because it ends up being paid by consumers who are purchasing goods from these complaining businesses.

He also said that individuals cannot afford off-island medical care and its the reason the Fono was asked to approve the $10 million measure, as well as use this money for Medicaid matching funds, which means LBJ could get more Medicaid funds that would mean new money for LBJ to fund other medical services for the community.

But Togiola said he was saddened that the Senate didn’t approve the bill, although he quickly pointed out that there were four Senators who supported the bill, while nine voted against it.

(The governor didn’t mention that the Senate had also rejected another administration bill seeking an $8 million loan from the ASG Employees Retirement Fund for LBJ operations. The $8 million loan and the $10 million for the referral program were to be funded from identical  sources — the hike in excise taxes and business license fees; $2,000 corporate franchise tax and a new 4% wage tax).

The House amended its version of the $10 million legislation, so it would have collected about $2 million a year; and the governor said that he would have supported this change to the bill if it had been approved by the Senate.

Togiola said he hopes that the public knows the names of those senators who voted against the bill so that the public does not blame the four senators who showed their love and care for the public by voting to support the bill.

He said it was very important to have sufficient funding for the referral program and pointed out that the latest report from LBJ states that more than 50 patients needed to travel off-island for medical care.

The governor said the hospital board has agreed with the administration's request to keep the rates down compared to the ones implemented in February and later rescinded, and at least one of the revenue bills was passed to help LBJ.

Togiola hopes for something good to come out of the Fono for the hospital when lawmakers convene in July for their fourth and final session. He called on the community to talk to their senators and faipule for support on these important matters.

The governor says there are senators and faipule who continue to object to good legislation that benefit the public and suggested that the the public can have them replaced in the Fono and bring in lawmakers — both the senators and faipule — who want to do good things for the community — and not those who are always just objecting to things from the government.

Togiola said that although he is providing comments and reactions, it is the public who has the final say on their lawmakers.

This is an election year and all members of the House are up for re-election. Senators’ four-year terms also end this year and they are selected to the Senate through their respective county councils.



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