- Associated Press - Monday, May 12, 2014

HAGATNA, Guam (AP) - Guam’s taxpayer-subsidized mental health agency has collected just $100 in billings since it started charging for its services in the past three months.

The public agency, Guam Behavioral Health and Wellness Center, has had trouble getting patients to pay their bills since instituting charges for the first time in February to reduce its dependence on public money, the Pacific Daily News reported Monday (http://ow.ly/wL75m ).

“I really didn’t expect much, it shouldn’t be a surprise for anybody,” Director Ray Vega said.

The agency’s gross billings come to about $50,000 a month, he said.

“That includes self-pay, no insurance, private insurance and TRICARE,” he said, referring to the military health care program.

Vega said 85 percent of patients qualify for Medicare, Medicaid and the Medically Indigent Program, a Guam program that provides health care cost assistance to those in need.

But the agency lacks certification to allow it to seek reimbursement from those programs. The agency, formerly known as the Department on Mental Health, is working on complying with certain standards that would allow for certification.

The agency this fiscal year is scheduled to receive nearly $17 million from taxpayers. About $13 million of that comes from the general fund, while $3.4 million comes from a fund collected from tobacco sales.

Senators voted to adopt a fee schedule in December in a push to reduce the agency’s dependence on taxpayer money.

There are between 1,000 and 1,200 people receiving counseling services, Vega said.

The agency has been providing care, essentially free of charge, since about 1983.