Trouble continues between air carrier and health provider in Saipan

Esther Muña

THE Star Marianas owes the Commonwealth Healthcare Corporation USD$172,932.03 for the unpaid hospital bills of the 10 persons, who were injured in two separate crash incidents in November 2012 and in October the following year.

Thus claimed CHCC Chief Executive Officer Esther Muña during an interview.

“We were there for them. We provided services for the patients, their passengers. They say they have the insurance, but we didn’t get paid,” Muña said.

She was referring to two Star Marianas Air charter planes which figured in accidents in 2012 and 2013.

In November 2012, a Tinian-bound Star Marianas Air charter flight crashed at the Saipan airport. The incident killed one passenger and four Chinese tourists, the pilot and Filipino guest worker, were critically injured. They were brought to the CHCC for treatment.

In October 2013, three people were killed and four were injured in a plane crash in the jungles of Mt. Laso. The four survivors, Chinese tourists, were flown to the CHCC for treatment.

Muña admitted the Star Marianas has been writing to them, saying that CHCC owe them.

“I know they have written to us, saying ‘you owe us’, but wait a minute, you owe us.”

She said one of her staff is asking the record from the Star Marianas Air the account of $96,000 they supposedly owed them.

“We called their accountant to give us me a statement of 96k. We are waiting,” Muña added.

According to Muña, CHCC handles inter-island medical referrals.

She further explained that in January 2017, Star Marianas Air wrote a letter to everybody, including CHCC, that they will require upfront payment.

“The reason they give us is that they were affected by CW cap and their accounting department will be impacted. They will not do bookkeeping anymore because they don’t have bookkeeper. What they want to do is cash basis, so there would be no accounting,” she said.

“For us, every day I have been signing on travel authorizations. I have been issuing checks because of this memo,” she said, adding “basically, every morning I got TAs for Star Marianas Air because there’s a traveler for inter-island medical referral.”

“We met with them. We asked them if it is any possibility that you bill us in a week and we pay in a week. They don’t want to do it. We even asked if we could pre-pay, let us put a $10,000 and then draw it down. They don’t want it because, again, it is bookkeeping,” she added.

Muña has requested the assistance of Sen. Teresita Santos to alleviate the situation. She said despite booking a seat, the Inter Island Medical Recipient travelers can lose their seat to another traveler if that traveler makes a payment before CHCC can.

“The effect of this condition is that our IIMR patients from Rota are exposed to the risk of losing their critical opportunity for medical travel to Saipan. 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 addressed to 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 a required of government agencies,” she added.

“If the provider, in the spirit of healthcare for our families on Rota, would confirm IIMR 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 burden on the provider,” she added.

Muña said they are doing all of these procedures but Star Marianas put more restrictions, especially when canceling 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. In another company you can have an opportunity to cancel. It is called non refundable but changeable. You can make changes to your flight and you could use that ticket in some ways,” Muña said.

Muna also said they are only asking to give them time to process the IIMR travel so that the patient will not be bumped off from the flight.
“It is not about money. We have the money, we have the system in place. It is just an everyday thing and it is costing too much.”

“Aside paying cash, Star Marianas allows payment system through credit card, or Paypal or company checks. We don’t do cash. We don’t have credit card, we only have company checks,” she added.

She said they tried to address the situation by using a travel agent, but CHCC is paying expensive tickets for that.

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