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Guam working hard on health care reform

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by Lannie Walker

Guam - The United States is now undergoing major healthcare reform and this means changes to Guam's healthcare system, as well.  Most of us have not read the thousands of pages of legislation detailing how healthcare reform will be carried out in the nation in the next few years, but some professionals in the healthcare and health insurance industry locally help shed some light on what is to come.

Dr. Vincent Akimoto of American Medical Center told KUAM News, "I think overall it should be positive changes if the plan is to equalize healthcare to everybody that's a noble goal and one we should strive for its irrational for the world's most prosperous country to not allow access to healthcare for the everybody."

One big change to come: the size of the population and exactly who will be eligible to receive federally funded healthcare. 

Tess Archangel, administrator of the Medicaid Program at the Department of Public Health, says the income guideline is going to be raised.  She noted, "Currently our income guideline is up to 100% of the poverty guide so that increase as we estimated it will double the individuals under the Medicaid program."

Archangel says currently about 30,000 people on Guam receive Medicaid - that number is expected to reach 60,000 by 2014. 

J. Peter Roberto, director of Public Health, says a portion of the population that is not eligible for Medicaid, but can't afford private insurance, will benefit.  "The whole idea is to capture that part of the population that just cannot afford health care they make to much to qualify so the positive impact if you will for individuals who cannot afford it can qualify for the Medicaid," he said.

But private health insurance companies may not benefit, according to Don Davis of staywell insurance. Davis says health care reform comes with a host a requirement for insurance companies that will drive up the industries cost.  "In the U.S., what they is they said we must provide balance so they made an individual mandate and told everybody they have to get insurance they made an employee mandate they have to provide insurance or pay a penalty which is fine the insurance companies can be stable that way," he explained.

But for Guam, Davis says that balance is missing. "But when it came to the territories, they put in the requirement," he said.  "They took out the individual mandate - they took out the employee mandate - so there is no fresh people coming into the pool and therefore the insurance companies.  I don't think the health insurance companies can financially viable if they have to provide all these new benefits, but they don't have new people coming in and contributing premium."

Which could result in a drastic outcome for private health care providers, says Savis. He adds without changes, the industry could be wiped out by 2014.

But for Dr. Akimoto, the total outcome should be a good one.  "It's going to be tough there will be growing pains and big mistakes made along the way but complaining about it ain't gonna help, so we just have to make it work," he stated.  "I think there will be some doctors who are making less money but there will be a lot more people getting healthcare, and that's okay."

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