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Non-binding resolution attempts to stall LBJ fee hikes

All 21 members of the House have signed on, and yesterday approved, a non-binding House Concurrent Resolution calling on the LBJ Medical Center board of directors “to postpone or cancel” the proposed fee hikes set to go into effect next Monday.

LBJ board chairman Moananu Va last Friday sent a notice to the governor about implementing the fee hikes, saying that there has been no solid financial aid package from the government, although bills have been introduced and hearings held.

Without another revenue source, the hospital may not be able to pay its vendors and fund the Feb. 22 payroll. (LBJ’s payroll is about $1.4 million a month)

Relying on income from hospital visits that may occur is not practical, according to the resolution, which also states that it will not enable LBJ to meet its intended purpose of paying vendors.

The LBJ management early this week informed hospital personnel about the new fee hikes going into effect at 8 a.m. on Monday.

“We regret that this action is necessary,” according to the e-mail notice to personnel, adding that LBJ has not received any of the emergency funding that was promised by the government, although revenues measures were introduced in the Senate but not yet reconciled.

The resolution, which now goes to the Senate for consideration and approval, cited provisions of local statute which entitle American Samoans and those residing in American Samoa legally, to free medical services.

“The law provides that LBJ may ‘make a reasonable charge’. Reasonable charge is defined as realistic, logical, and sensible,” the resolution says. “Considering that the whole of American Samoa is considered below the poverty line on the national level, charging a 400% increase in fees is unrealistic, inconsiderate and insensitive to the people of American Samoa.”

According to the measure, “a more realistic approach to placing LBJ in a credible position of enabling them to pay their vendors now and in the future is to have the Legislature pass a ‘hospital tax’ payable by all employees, public and private, and deducted from their paychecks” similar to the wage tax.  (No ‘hospital tax’ bill is pending in the Fono at this time)

“This will assure LBJ specific amounts to plan and pay with, and the entire population will continue to contribute to the survival of the LBJ Medical Center for as long as it exists,” it says.

House members reiterated that the Fono “continues to work on revenue measures and long term sustainable solutions in efforts to assist LBJ in rising above its financial woes.”

The Fono has so far approved only $800,000 in supplemental funding for LBJ and this measure — which includes another $800,000 for FEMA matching fund— was to have been sent to the governor late Wednesday afternoon.

A second measure, already approved by the Fono, but yet to be finalized by both chambers, is the Senate bill (S.B. 32-26), allocating $3 million to the hospital. The original version calls for a direct payment from the funding source, the Workmen’s Compensation Account, to the hospital.

However, the House made several amendments to the bill, which includes having the $3 million be a loan, to be repaid by a new 2% wage tax. After the loan is paid off, 50% of revenues collected from the wage tax go to LBJ’s off-island medical referral program and the other 50% goes into the ASG general fund.

The Senate rejected the amendments and yesterday informed the House to return the bill to its original version. However, the House opted to send a communication to the Senate that when amendments are rejected, it also requires calling a conference committee, which is something the Senate didn’t seek.

The House communication will be presented at today’s Senate session.