SAIPAN – The Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. on Tuesday announced the implementation of across-the-board "cost-containment measures."

CHCC spokeswoman Zoe Travis said the measures aim to reduce the hospital's costs. She said they are also looking to reduce off-island travel and training costs, as well as nonessential purchases and projects.

"Cost-containment measures are difficult in a health care setting," Travis said. "We also need to be very conscious of not affecting the availability or quality of care that the corporation provides to the CNMI community."

Essential hospital staff, supplies and equipment will not be affected by the austerity measures, Travis said.

"Unlike some other organizations under austerity right now, we are not able to simply scale back hours or services. For example, we can't close the ER on Fridays."

Travis said CHCC has been operating in a state of austerity for years because of the "inequitable Medicaid funding for the territories and the high cost of uncompensated care."

CHCC's annual report stated that it incurred $18.3 million in uncompensated care in 2018, resulting in a $7 million deficit.

"There isn't a distinct end in sight especially with the Medicaid cliff approaching, which will put CHCC in an even more difficult financial position," CHCC stated.

"Uncompensated care costs at CHCC are partially a result of unfunded programs, such as inter-island medical referrals, but in the majority arise from the lack of insurance availability for individuals in the CNMI, and (not enough) Medicaid funding."

The CNMI's Medicaid funding was exhausted in March this year.

Starting in June, the CNMI Medicaid Office no longer reimburses private clinics for the health services they provide to Medicaid patients.

In effect, CHCC said it "bore the burden" of the Medicaid funding crisis after CNMI Medicaid Director Helen C. Sablan designated CHCC as the sole primary health provider for 15,316 individuals currently enrolled in the Medicaid program.

Aside from taking steps to reduce costs, Travis said CHCC is also "actively looking to promote projects that generate revenue for the corporation."

She said these include expanding services, including the increased availability of cancer care.

"This is essential to generating revenue, reducing the cost of off-island referrals, and, most importantly, providing more and better healthcare to the community," Travis added.