Terlaje’s health care choice bill now law

Senator Jose “Pedo” Terlaje (file photo)
Governor’s transmittal letter to the Speaker on the Health Care Choice bill

Governor Lou Leon Guerrero on Friday signed into law a bill that would provide GovGuam employees a choice of health insurance providers, despite reservations over the potential increase in cost to Guam taxpayers.

Substitute Bill 366-35 is now Public Law 35-92.

“We must also acknowledge that the cost to government may increase,” wrote the Governor in her transmittal letter to the Speaker.

The Governor  also expressed concern “regarding our ability to implement the Legislature’s language as drafted” however “we will work as cooperatively as possible to do so.”

The health care choice bill started off as bill Bill No. 255-35 introduced by Sen. Pedo Terlaje and co-sponsored by Speaker Tina Muna Barnes. The fiscal note on that bill warned health insurance costs could increase by 10% or 11%.

The cost for the current fiscal year to provide health insurance coverage for GovGuam employees, retirees and their dependents is roughly $110 million.

The GovGuam health insurance contract is the single largest procurement for GovGuam every year.

During this month’s Session objections over costs prompted Terlaje to withdraw Bill 255 on Friday June 5th. It was then amended and resurrected on Monday June 8 as Bill 366-35.

Speaker Barnes waived the requirement for a public hearing for Bill 366. No fiscal note was submitted on the bill to provide guidance to lawmakers on what it would cost taxpayers.

It passed two days later by a vote of 8 to 6.

The senators who voted for the healthcare choice bill were Speaker Barnes, Pedo Terlaje, Amanda Shelton, Joe San Agustin, Clint Ridgell, Telo Taitague, Louise Muna, and Wil Castro.

Senators voting no were Régine Biscoe Lee, Kelly Marsh, Sabina Flores Perez, Therese Terlaje, Mary Camacho Torres and Telena Cruz Nelson.

Senator James Moylan had an excused absence.

As amended Bill 366, now Public Law 35-92, still requires the Governor to name the most economical and beneficial health plan, but two providers will still be available for GovGuam employees to choose from.

If any employee selected the higher-priced plan option, they would have to cover the higher premium cost themselves. Sen. Terlaje has maintained his amended measure would not cost taxpayers more.

The Governor disagreed but signed the bill anyway “writing that she believes healthcare is a human right and essential to that right is the ability to choose one’s own physician.”

At the same time however the Governor acknowledged that the bill she signed “provides healthcare choice to GovGuam employees” while “thousands of our private sector citizens go without the security of a health insurance plan they can trust.”

The choice option for GovGuam employees does bot take effect until the 2022 fiscal year.