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Senate to discuss health matters next week

[SN file photo]
Dengue fever, health cards, and medical services are on the agenda

Dengue fever preventive measures put in place by American Samoa following reports of people dying from the mosquito borne disease in Samoa; Health Department health cards; and status of medical services, are some of the health issues that will be tackled next Tuesday during a Senate hearing, chaired by Sen. Nuanuaolefeagaiga Saoluaga Nua.


During Wednesday’s session, Nuanuaolefeagaiga reported on the Senate floor his concerns over dengue and other diseases being reported from neighboring Samoa, saying there are reports of deaths due to a dengue outbreak and he believes senators should get a briefing from local health officials on these matters.

This is so very important, said the Manu’a senator, because of frequent travelers between the two Samoas. He said senators should be informed of preventive measures in place to stop the spread of dengue from Samoa to American Samoa.

Radio New Zealand International (RNZI) reported early this week that Samoa's Ministry of Health has revealed that dengue cases have reached 2,500 since last October and there have been five deaths so far.

RNZI also reported ten cases of dengue in New Zealand, as people are returning from Samoa. There is mounting pressure on the Ministry of Health to increase awareness in Samoa about the dengue outbreak, especially during the tourist season.


At yesterday's session, Sen. Tuaolo Manaia Fruean noted the need to revisit the issue of medical care at LBJ Medical Center, adding that he recently visited the hospital and there were too many patients waiting to see the doctor. He is also concerned with the standard of care at the hospital and how this will impact LBJ if there is an inspection by the US Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS).

He requested that the American Samoa Medicaid Office director, Sandra King-Young provide senators a complete briefing of the off island medical referral program, with patients sent to New Zealand and paid for by the Medicaid program. He said it's important that all senators have a full understanding of the issue, when responding to questions from their constituents.

Sen. Fai’ivae Iuli Godinet added that another health issue has to do with the Health Department clinic in Tafuna, which is certified for Medicaid patients. He said he visited the clinic this week and was very unhappy with the condition of the clinic, and he too is concerned that a visit by CMS to the clinic could result in some serious negative findings.

He added that the clinic is only able to see 10 patients a day, while the DoH clinic at Fagaalu is only able to serve 20 people for health cards, while there are still members of the public waiting.

Senate President Gaoteote Tofau Palaie said police were called last week to the Fagaalu clinic because there were too many people there, seeking health card services. He agreed with concerns regarding health issues raised by senators.

Samoa News reported last Friday, based on eyewitness reports, that 200 people — some of them there since 4a.m. — were at the clinic on Wednesday and police were called by DoH staff, because many of them refused to go home, after DoH accepted only 20 applicants — as required by their policy, serving health card applicants only on Mondays, Wednesday and Fridays. (See last Friday’s edition for details).

For the medical referral to New Zealand, the Governor’s Comprehensive Report to the Fono and Feds, points out that New Zealand is more affordable. Medicaid will not only pay for air transportation, including air ambulance or Medivac, but it will also pay for all medical expenses for referral patients in New Zealand, it says.

 “The only cost patients will have to bear is housing, as CMS will not reimburse for that cost — at least for now,” the report notes. “To address some doubts towards this new route and endeavor, the people of American Samoa should find great comfort in knowing that New Zealand’s healthcare system is one of the top five best healthcare systems in the world.”

In his State of the Territory Address, Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga mentioned the financial challenges faced by the local health care system.

Senators would like to get a full briefing with details from King-Young, as well as updates from LBJ officials on the status of the hospital.

Other witnesses requested to provide answers to the Senate hearing include LBJ and Health officials.