Health Care Dominates Unruly GMA Debate

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Guam – Health care questions dominated the Guam Medical Associations [GMA] often unruly Gubernatorial debate Wednesday night, a  debate that was marred by a flawed format that initially allowed the rivals candidates to interrupt each other before the rules were changed to set time limits on responses and stop the interruptions.

And tempers flared following the debate leading to a scuffle outside that prompted police to step in and detain at least one person. Its not clear yet what sparked the exchange or whether any charges were filed in the incident which involved, among others,  candidate and former Governor Carl Gutierrez and the father of the late Angel Santos.

Although billed as an exchange that would cover a wide range of issues, three-quarters of the allotted time was devoted to answering questions relating to health care. And the most divisive issue was the new Calvo SelectCare health insurance plan for GovGuam employees.

Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Carl Gutierrez took the first question which asked for the candidates thoughts on health care disparities.

“The most vulnerable are being marginalized,” said Gutierrez who then launched into an attack on the new GovGuam health insurance plan.

“You can not allow people to buy into an insurance plan with a 300% increase,” said Gutierrez, who then attacked the profits of Tokyo Marine, Calvo’s underwriter. “They made a $17 million dollar profit in 1 year,” said Gutierrez, “that money should go back to our people because its an over charge … your shoving it down the people of  Guam’s throat.”

His GOP Gubernatorial rival Eddie Calvo then responded by acknowledging that “health care is indeed a problem, but typical of my opponent .. he has found a new enemy,” said Calvo who went on to accuse Gutierrez of lying.

“What they fail to mention to you,” said Calvo, “is that those profits are not just for SelectCare.”  They include profits from Tokyo Marine’s “private health insurance coverage … from property insurance … typhoon and car insurance … profits from all of the Marianas, not just Guam.”

“Now that I have dispensed with the lies and the falsehood,” said Calvo, he turned to his own record on health care saying, “We built more community health centers … spent more on MIP …and we will continue to grow and build more community health centers … and we will work with the hospital to alleviate the pressures on the emergency room.”

Gutierrez stood up again interrupting Calvo to ask “Why will not Calvo SelectCare give the information to Mike Cruz that he asked for?” [The Lt. Governor had asked Selectcare to disclose loss and denial ratios as well as administrative costs.].

“They can’t afford a $6-thousand dollar deductible, and many are dropping their health insurance coverage

Calvo, who was still on the stage answering the previous question, said “There he goes, changing the subject.”

Gutierrez’s running mate Senator Frank Aguon Jr. then jumped in to accuse  SelectCare of taking advantage of the tax credits from the people of Guam.”

Calvo, pointing to Gutierrez shot back, “Qualified certificates you signed it into law.”

Gutierrez countering:”You were supposed to give it back to the people.”

And so it went as the debate descended into near chaos.

When asked to allow Calvo to finish, Gutierrez said “I don’t know what the rules are.”

Organizers eventually were forced to revise their hopes for a free wheeling dialogue, and change the rules of exchange to impose more order to the debate.

Next question, nearly the same as the first, asked:” Health Care has become the most important issue, What are you going to do about it?”

Gutierrez answered, “Come January 1st,  when I’m sworn in as Governor,  we will re-negotiate that [SelectCare] contract.” He then asked Calvo to make a commitment, “Are you going to re-negotiate it?”

“No,” said Calvo. “I’m not going to re-negotiate. If it means disrupting dialysis treatment for that retiree.” Instead, what Calvo said he would do in January is to “raise the contribution by the government to release some of he burden on the GovGuam employee.”And Calvo said he would encourage more insurance companies to enter the bidding on providing GovGuam employees with health insurance to make it more competitive and lower the rates.

Senator Aguon’s then asked Calvo, “when you have insurance rates that increase from 90% to 270% and your not going to renegotiate? That just doesn’t make sense.”

Calvo’s  running mate Senator Ray Tenorio responded by faulting Senator Aguon, who Chairs the Legislature’s Health Committee, for  not attending the negotiations on the health insurance plan. “He should have attended,” said Tenorio. “He didn’t make sure that GovGuam contributions didn’t stay where they are.”

The next question, “How do you plan to maintain hospital accreditation?”

“I was wrong,” said Gutierrez acknowledging statements he made 4 years ago. “We make mistakes and we own up to it,” said Gutierrez.

He then went on to call for a round of applause for “Lt. Governor Mike Cruz for and all the people at the hospital” for achieving that accreditation, “for doing the impossible.”

But Calvo thanked the Camacho administration,  calling it a team effort and an example of what can happen when you get a board and let them run it.”