29 Jan 2018
- By Lori Lyn C. Lirio – [email protected] – Variety News Staff
STAR Marianas owes the Commonwealth Healthcare Corporation $172,932.03 for the unpaid hospital bills of 10 persons injured in two separate crash incidents in Nov. 2012 and Oct. 2013, according to CHCC Chief Executive Officer Esther Muna.
“We were there for them. We provided medical services for the patients, their passengers. They said they had insurance, but we didn’t get paid,” Muna said.
In Nov. 2012, a Tinian-bound Star Marianas Air charter flight crashed at the Saipan airport. The incident killed one passenger and four tourists. The pilot and a guest worker were critically injured and were brought to CHCC for treatment.
In Oct. 2013, three people were killed and four were injured in a plane crash on Tinian. The four survivors, who were tourists, were flown to CHCC for treatment.
Muna said Star Marianas has “written to us, saying ‘you owe us’ — but wait a minute, they owe us.”
She said one of her staff members is seeking any record from Star Marianas Air indicating that CHCC supposedly owes the airline $96,000.
“We have called their accountant to give us a statement regarding that $96,000. We are waiting,” Muna added.
Star Marianas Air earlier informed CHCC in a memo that the airline will now require upfront payments.
“They were affected by the CW cap. They can’t do bookkeeping anymore because they don’t have a bookkeeper. So they want to do it on a cash basis,” Muna said.
“Every day I have been signing travel authorizations [or TA’s] and I have been issuing checks because of that memo,” she said. “Basically, every morning I get TA’s for Star Marianas Air because there’s a traveler for inter-island medical referral.
“We met with them. We asked them if there is any possibility that they can bill us in a week and we will pay in a week. They don’t want to do it. We even asked if we could pre-pay — let us put in $10,000 and then they draw it down. They don’t want it because, again, it is a bookkeeping procedure.”
Muna said she has requested the assistance of Rota Sen. Teresita Santos.
Right now, Muna added, despite booking a seat, an inter-island medical-referral traveler could lose his or her seat to another traveler if that traveler makes a cash payment before CHCC can.
“The effect of this is that our patients from Rota are exposed to the risk of losing their critical opportunity for medical travel to Saipan,” Muna said. “Given that there is a public accountability process for all government agencies, we cannot issue payments simultaneously upon booking a reservation,” she stated in a letter to Senator Santos.
“Upon booking a reservation, CHCC must perform necessary procedures such as producing a travel authorization and having it approved. CHCC must also then prepare the payment for the travel through CHCC’s financial system, obtain approvals, and then print the check. These procedures are required of government agencies,” she added.
“If the provider, in the spirit of healthcare for our families on Rota, would confirm [inter-island medical referral] seats and allow for even a 24-hour period for payment, this would alleviate the issue. One day to receive payment does not seem to be a big burden on the provider.”
Muna said they have to perform these procedures but Star Marianas has imposed more restrictions, especially when cancelling a flight.
“You have to cancel within 72 hours if you have to cancel the flight. We are only allowed one rescheduled flight. If we don’t use it, we will lose the money. We will have to buy another ticket. With another company you can have an opportunity to cancel. It is called nonrefundable but changeable. You can make changes to your flight and you could use that ticket in some other way,” Muna said.
She said they are only asking for more time to process the medical-referral travel so that the patient will not be bumped from the flight.
“It is not about money. We have the money, and we have the system in place. It is just an everyday thing and it is costing too much.
“Aside from paying cash, Star Marianas allows payment through credit card, or Paypal or company checks. We don’t do cash. We don’t have a credit card, we only have company checks,” she added.
She said they tried to address the situation by using a travel agent, but CHCC has to pay for expensive tickets by doing so.
Variety was unable to get a comment from Star Marianas.
Source: Marianas Variety : http://www.mvariety.com/cnmi/cnmi-news/local/101832-health-official-star-marianas-owes-chcc-over-170k