By Troy Torres
(Tumon, Guam) In her state of the island address, Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero called on the Legislature and the people of Guam to make universal health care the island's central public policy priority this year.
"The Governor believes in healthcare as a human right—not just as a perk of the fit or the fortunate. We are all human beings. It’s just wrong to see others go broke because of illness or ration insulin and gamble with their quality of life." - Carlo Branch, governor's chief policy advisor
According to Mr. Branch, the Governor's Office reasons that a planned and structured system that provides coverage for preventative care will end up being more cost effective and affordable than the current system, where the government ends up paying for expensive care in the emergency room and the intensive care unit.
"It’s a good day when moral obligations make clear financial sense," Mr. Branch said. "[W]e have universal health coverage on Guam—we just have it at the very high cost of a visit to GMH. Treatment at that point comes at the critical stage rather than the preventative stage, meaning taxpayers fund the most expensive fare possible and patients suffer needlessly."
The public Self-Insurance Program, as the Leon Guerrero administration terms it, would look like an expanded version of the government of Guam health insurance program for active employees and retirees, but for a wider audience. The uninsured and underinsured of Guam largely are private sector workers who either don't have insurance coverage, or whose coverage plans have deductibles that keep them from seeing the doctor, when they should. By the time these patients do see their doctors or are seen in the hospital emergency room - normally following some catastrophic event - they face the onset of disease that could have been prevented and is very expensive to treat.
"Coverage would be provided through existing provider networks and will offer comprehensive health services," Ms. Leon Guerrero said in her speech before the Legislature Monday night. "The funding for this Self Insurance Plan will require us to pool every dollar the government spends on healthcare."
The previous administration worked with former Sen. Dennis Rodriguez, Jr. on a similar set of plans and proposals that, if implemented, would have led to expanded coverage and possibly universal health care for Guam.
Ms. Leon Guerrero's administration will be calling professionals and stakeholders together to formulate the public policy needed for such an implementation. Whatever plan comes about that requires the movement of resources will require legislative authorization, which she sought as well in her speech.