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V.I. GETS MORE FUNDING TO STUDY INSURANCE NEEDS

Oct. 2, 2003 – Delegate Donna M. Christensen said on Thursday that a federal grant just awarded the V.I. Bureau of Economic Research will help the agency gather information to make federal authorities more aware "of what needs to be done to lower the number of uninsured in our community."
The $103,595 grant, announced on Wednesday, is from the U.S. Health and Human Services Department, to enable the research bureau to develop strategies to improve access to health insurance.
"In light of the challenges facing the territory with the cap on Medicaid and the cost of medical insurance," Christensen said in a release issued on Thursday, "the information gathered from this grant will underscore our efforts with HHS and give them a deeper understanding" of Virgin Islanders' insurance needs.
According to Christensen, 24 states and one territory — the Virgin Islands — have received supplemental grants to support their efforts to develop options to increase health insurance coverage. The funding announced on Wednesday totaled $11.7 million and was apportioned to seven states and the District of Columbia as well as the Virgin Islands, she said.
Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson said the funding is to encourage ideas from the juristictions "to help get more Americans health coverage."
Christensen noted that a recently released U.S. Census report indicates that the number of uninsured Americans is on the rise. Grantees are to conduct studies to determine how many residents are uninsured and why, and to report back to HHS with recommendations as to the best ways to address the problem.
"These findings will be helpful to the federal government and to other states as we work together to expand coverage," Elizabeth M . Duke, administrator of the federal Health Resources and Services Administration, said.
Christensen credited Dr. Jacqueline Hoop Sinclair and the University of the Virgin Islands Eastern Caribbean Center "for their work on the preliminary grant that made this supplemental possible." That earlier $1.1 million grant funded a study undertaken by the Eastern Caribbean Center last year that included a telephone survey of 1,764 households in the territory.
Sinclair, manager of the V.I. State Planning Group Project, said earlier this year that she believes one reason the territory may have a high uninsured rate is that about 30,000 residents work for businesses with four or fewer employees. Small business owners have the hardest time getting health insurance for their employees because availability is very limited and the cost is very high, she said.
According to testimony before the Senate this week, about 30 percent of the territory's population is covered by the government's group health insurance — some 30,000 persons comprising government workers, their families, and retirees and their dependents.

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