Jan. 17, 2006 –The Health, Hospitals and Human Services Committee will meet Wednesday on St. Croix to consider a bill to provide health care benefits for every uninsured resident employed in the territory's private sector.
However, members of the St. Thomas business community are concerned that the bill presently leaves too many unanswered questions.
Called the Governor's Health Reform Initiative, the plan, if carried out, could reduce the $24 million debt incurred by local hospitals as a result of unpaid bills from uninsured patients, according to some of the bill's proponents.
Through the plan, employers would team up to buy a core benefits policy for their employees and split the cost of the $182 monthly premium. If employees can't afford to pay their share, the government will kick in to pay a third of the cost. The deductibles would be $250 per individual or $750 per family (See "Health Plan Aims to Help Uninsured").
"The goal is to insure 10,000 out of the 26,500 uninsured Virgin Islanders," Dr. Jacqueline Hoop-Sinicrope, the initiative's project manager, said at a meeting held in December for stakeholders in the insurance industry.
However, questions about how the plan will be funded — and whether it will be able to sustain itself on residents' monthly premiums — are still a concern in the local community.
Raymond L. Fournier, chairman of a St. Thomas Chamber of Commerce task force designed to research the bill, said the bill's language is "vague" with respect to specific figures – such as how much premium income would be generated annually in the territory.
"We [the St. Thomas Chamber of Commerce] recognize the value of a plan like this," he said when contacted Wednesday afternoon. "However, there is some key data missing, and without it, we can't really tell how the plan will operate going forward."
Fournier also questioned why the government isn't using the plan on its own employees to determine whether it is a "viable alternative to their current insurance policy."
"Another thing is, we don't know what the premiums are going to be year after year, or what's going to assure that the plan remains affordable," Fournier said. "And we need to make sure that we remain sensitive to everyone that's going to be involved in the plan."
Fournier said the Chamber would soon be putting out a paper regarding its position on the bill. "We just need some more information right now," he explained.
Representatives from the Chamber will join other stakeholders on the island at another committee meeting Feb. 1 to hear testimony on the bill.
Benjamin Rivera, executive director of the St. Croix Chamber of Commerce, did not return several calls made by the Source to discuss the bill.
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