Heated battle over GovGuam health insurance
Guam - The last time the Guam Legislature went into session on a Saturday, there were fireworks. We even saw Democrats and Republicans teaming up against the leadership of Speaker Judi Won Pat. This past Saturday another controversial session and while most may have thought it would be another round of the budget battle, instead a new fight ensued over GovGuam health insurance.
It was another emotionally charged Saturday session for senators. But instead of talking about a new budget the Democrat majority passed Bill 174, much to the objection of the Republican minority. "We called session for 9 o'clock and the bill was introduced at 9:02," announced Senator Tony Ada.
Bill 174 was introduced and co-sponsored by all the Democrats with the exception of Senator Dennis Rodriguez, Jr. It was immediately added to session agenda Saturday morning. The measure would essentially force the government to go with an exclusive contract for its employees and retirees.
The bill is based on a letter from the GovGuam Health Insurance Negotiating Team to the Legislature signed by Department of Administration director Benita Manglona which evaluated the proposals that were submitted.
The letter noted that an exclusive contract would bring an overall savings of $18.7 million, while the non-exclusive option would reduce overall costs for GovGuam by $1 million but that's assuming that each vendor successfully enrolls a third of the population. The negotiating team notes that until open enrollment is completed, there is no way to estimate the actual costs.
Bill 174 however takes the savings from the exclusive contract and appropriates the funding for government operations and to pay hay raises and cost of living allowances.
The Republican minority were concerned that the legislature maybe overstepping its bounds and violating the Separation of Powers doctrine. Senator Chris Duenas said, "So we're moving forward on an appropriation measure with no public hearing that interjects I believe this legislature into the executive branch powers because this is not in our hands at this point because there has to be a consummated signed contract. So I make a motion that we resolve into the Committee of the Whole and bring the AG in to get an opinion on this to make sure we're doing the right thing. And also any other members to maybe substantiate the numbers that have put together I'm very concerned how these numbers derived because they're supposed to be non-disclosure."
Senator Ada said, "If you look at Section at Section 2 on Page 2, Government of Guam health insurance program appropriation we haven't even passed a budget yet and we're already appropriating. We don't even know what the numbers would be."
The Democrats however fire back that the numbers were based on the health negotiating team and that they were performing their basic functions of the Legislature.
Senator Mike San Nicolas said, "Stop the gamesmanship about whether or not we have the legal authority to appropriate because that's the basic function of the Legislature, Madame Speaker." Senator Rory Respicio said, "I'm just sick and tired of this Separation of Powers doctrine where we erode our authority of the Legislature and on the very face of it your authority is to appropriate and you're going to allow the governor to dictate to you when to leave when to come when to stand when to sit you talk about being a ashamed yesterday for pointing fingers and you're not ashamed. Colleagues, you're not ashamed. Enough is enough."
The bill passed straight down party lines with Senator Rodriguez absent. After the vote senators took a recess and returned to give brief extension of remarks focusing on how they will have to move forward with passing a Fiscal Year 2014 budget. It's a process Senator Aline Yamashita asked be done with decorum, saying, "I left at the break and I got assaulted by a woman and it really has to do with because of all the energy that happened this morning. She first pushed away another senator then when I went up to her she pushed me and that's not a way to treat each other, Madame Speaker. It's not - the energy, the excitement, this not the way we have to behave. We're all very passionate about what we think we're supposed to be doing. And we can arrive in a very reasoned, calm, focused manner, Madame Speaker. We will do this together. We will."