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Gov has final say on med charters, including repatriation flights

American Samoa Medicaid State Agency director Sandra King-Young
Lack of local match seems to be biggest problem for using Medicaid funds

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga has the final say if there is to be another medical charter to Hawai’i, as the LBJ Medical Center is pondering over a possible second one due to the increase of patients needing medical attention.

This is according to American Samoa Medicaid State Agency director Sandra King-Young, during her agency’s fiscal year 2021 budget hearing yesterday where she also informed lawmakers of the millions of dollars in unused Medicaid funds — through Congressional appropriation that will be returned due to the lack of local matching funds.

There have been discussions among lawmakers and others in the community questioning whether the government, through the ASG Medicaid Office is looking at another medical charter, citing the increase in the number of patients needing to travel to the US for medical treatment.

Sen. Tuaolo Manaia Fruean raised the issue when King-Young appeared yesterday before the Fono Joint Budget Committee, asking if there are any plans for another medical charter.

King-Young responded that there’s a request from the hospital for a possible medical charter as the number of patients needing medical attention off island has increased. However, she said the answer and final decision for such a charter comes from the governor.

She said the Medicaid Office is prepared to work on such a charter — as it had done so for the first one — if there is a directive and response from the governor.

Tuaolo posed a statement that the charter is only to take out passengers and not to allow any incoming passengers, to which King-Young said that is a decision made by the governor and government’s COVID-19 Task Force.

Samoa News notes that the governor has already appointed a special committee, which includes physicians to come up with plans for a repatriation flight to return home local residents stranded in Hawaii and across the US.

The plans were to be submitted yesterday to the task force for review before it’s presented for a final decision by the governor and the lieutenant governor.


Earlier in the hearing, Rep. Larry Sanitoa recalled that American Samoa will have to return back to the federal government any leftover or unused money — under the $84 million in Medicaid funding approved by the US Congress — by the end of FY 2020 — which is the end of this month. He noted that the unused funds are due to the lack of a local match, as this has been discussed before during previous House committee hearings.

He asked how much of the $84 million has not been used yet, to which King-Young said — about $68 million.

Sanitoa pointed out that this is a serious issue for LBJ’s FY 2021 budget, where the hospital is depending on $38 million in Medicaid funding as one of its funding sources for the new fiscal year.

“This is major issue for the hospital,” he said.

Rep. Loia Gutu asked if the local Medicaid Office can request the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare (CMS) to “roll-over” to the next fiscal year the left over or unused funds allocated to American Samoa.

King-Young explained that the specific $84 million for American Samoa is through federal law, passed by the US Congress, which makes such a decision. She noted that for FY 2021, a similar amount has also been allocated by Congress but in FY 2022 and beyond American Samoa will need to make separate requests.