Medicaid Director pressured during SSIC hearing on TALOFAPass
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — Tofoitaufa Sandra King Young, Director of the American Samoa Medicaid State Agency said their office has been ridiculed by the public in relation to the TALOFAPass $6.4 million contract, yet their office had nothing to do with the TALOFAPass.
She made the comments during the recent Senate Select Investigative Committee (SSIC) hearing.
The Data House won the tender for the TALOFAPass contract.
According to Tofoitaufa her involvement in the TALOFAPass was when the government was trying to repatriate American Samoans stuck overseas during the closure of borders as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The repatriation of our people led to the establishment of the TALOFAPass.”
According to Tofoitaufa when Gov. Lemanu P. S. Mauga took office that’s when the repatriation flights started in February 2021.
She said in June 2021 the Government leaders instructed her and Director of Health Motusa Tuilaeama Nua to find a way to bring people home as the government could not afford paying for quarantine in Hawaii.
“Keep in mind it was through the Medicaid office that allowed for the repatriating of our people home, and it was approved by Center for Medicaid and Medicare Service to use the local Medicaid funding to pre-pay commercial charter flights and the public would recoup it back to the Medicaid office,” she said.
Adding that it was in August when the flights would be handed back to the airline to oversee, so a process was needed for the government to manage the borders and that’s how the TALOFAPass came about, according to King Young.
“And we came up with the solution there was a need for a single web portal, given there were so many issues arising from the repatriation flights; there was unfairness and disgruntleness in the way people were being put on the repatriation flights and the objective of the government was to find an IT solution to make travel fair for all passengers, and to continue to monitor COVID testing and vaccinations,” explained Tofoitaufa.
According to the Medicaid Director she was given the lead to be the facilitator and point of contact for the project — and that’s how her team met with officials from the Data House.
She said at that time the Medicaid office had an existing contract with US Reno Dialysis and they were working on getting dialysis patients treatment they needed.
“And it was through that connection that we were introduced to Data House by Reno Dialysis and like everything I had done in solving Medicaid problems, I see the people that I used to work for 10, 30 years ago — this is my professional network. The Reno Dialysis people, I didn’t know them, same as the Data House people, but my goal was to look for a suitable company, honest and a company that can expedite the process at the same time.
And that is how I met the Data House,” said Tofoitaufa.
Senate President Tuaolo Manaia Fruean asked the Medicaid Director as to the guarantees that people’s information would not be sold online by the Data House.
“I am worried about the security of our records, will it be leaked or sold online?” asked Tuaolo.
Speaking from experience, Tuaolo said his bank account was hacked twice and luckily the bank was able to stop it.
“That is my problem with the Data House, it’s a private company — what guarantee can you give that our records our secured?” asked Tuaolo.
Tofoitaufa said this is always a concern — the security of information, however she testified that the government wouldn’t give those industries contracts knowing it would compromise the information entrusted to them.
“Another thing is the Data House has been in service for over 50 years in Hawaii,” said Tofoitaufa.
Before she could complete her response, Tuaolo interjected and said he is not interested in the history of the Data House.
“I am only interested in the security of our people’s records in any case it’s leaked out,” asked Tuaolo.
Tofoitaufa replied, the company cannot do that. “They are legally bound to secure the information.”
Tuaolo again interrupted: “What guarantee can you say that they cannot do that, that is my concern.”
Tofoitaufa responded: “I can only say to you, they are a credible and legitimate company and they also have a reputation to protect. And they are bound by federal laws that protect us. The TALOFAPass system is HIPPA compliant and under that contract under those laws… they don’t own the data, we do.
“The American Samoa Government owns the data and so it’s in their best interest and their professionalism, they cannot violate those federal laws. To do so would compromise them as a company, we own the data,” said Tofoitaufa.
Another issue the Senate President zeroed in on during the hearing was the appointment of Tofoitaufa as director, which is not subject to Fono confirmation, although her office deals with millions in funding.
Tofoitaufa has been the Medicaid Director since 2013.
She explained their office is under the Governor’s office and it’s called a “line agency”.
Tuaolo is puzzled about Tofoitaufa’s position being an appointment.
“We recently passed $3 million for the American Samoa Medicaid State Agency, your office deals with millions, yet you’re not subject to Fono confirmation?” asked Tuaolo.
Tofoitaufa explained her contract does not stipulate the need to undergo confirmation by the Fono, which has been the case since her appointment.
More on the SSIC hearing in later editions.