Symposium Gets Health-Care Pros Up to Speed on Medicare

Sept. 19, 2008 — A two-day symposium on Medicare and Medicaid at Divi Casino conference center attracted close to 150 participants as it put the focus on patients and "moving in the right direction for a healthy community."
The aim of the V.I. Medical Symposium was to give medical professionals working with Medicare information to help them better serve the residents of the Virgin Islands. Lt. Gov. Gregory Francis spearheaded the symposium, which began Thursday.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) have given annual conferences geared to partner organizations, but Francis wanted a symposium for all the people in the territory who deal with Medicare, said St. Thomas native Iris Bermudez, manager of customer relations at the CMS office in Atlanta, Ga.
In his opening remarks, Francis said Medicare is an integral part of the V.I. health-care system.
"We have listened to the concerns of Virgin Islanders," Francis told the crowd. "We made the right decision to bring all of these providers together."
The sponsors were Francis' office, the Department of Human Services, V.I. State Health Insurance Assistance Program (VI SHIP), V.I. Medicare and CMS.
"The governor said put all the parts together and move forward," said Chris Finch, director of Human Services.
Health care is "a basic human right," said Vivian Ebbesen-Fludd, Department of Health Commissioner.
"The patient has to be the focus — they have entrusted their health care and services to us," she said.
The program began with a PowerPoint presentation by Delia Lasanta, director of the Medicare Puerto Rican field office.
"We know Social Security and Medicare programs remain problematic," Lasanta said. "It's scary we pay out more than we take in."
In 1950 there were 16 workers for one retiree, and in 2007 the ratio was three workers paying into Social Security to one retiree, she said. The first of the Baby Boomers are turning 62 this year, Lasanta noted.
"This is the silver tsunami," Lasanta said. "We're living longer — taking care of ourselves, and we have rising health-care costs."
CMS is the largest health-care payer in the world, she said. Her group has a strategic plan of achieving a transformed and modernized health-care system. The plan includes providing effective health care, disease management, skilled and motivated workers and accurate payments.
"We want to pay correctly and not pay for mistakes," Lasanta said.
CMS also wants to improve an electronic claims system, she said.
"We have got to get away from paper," Lasanta said. Audience members nodded their heads in agreement.
The workshops were broken down into two tracks: the first to train the trainer and the second for providers.
Norma Harris from the Puerto Rico CMS office spoke to the trainers, the smaller of the groups, about understanding Medicare Part I. Harris spoke about what Medicare is, the program basics, eligibility and how and when to enroll.
"You must counsel your people on telling clients to take responsibility for themselves," Harris said. Harris also talked about Medicare drug coverage.
Former St. Croix resident Kitichia C. Weekes, a CMS health insurance specialist working in the New York office, gave a presentation about understanding Medicare Part II. The topic was prescription drug coverage. She gave information on who can join, how plans work, out-of-pocket-costs and drug costs. She also spoke about Medicare rights and protection.
Francis commended Weekes for the recognition she has brought to the Virgin Islands with her accomplishments.
In the provider workshops, Ricardo Holigan from CMS gave a presentation about Medicaid and who qualifies, the benefits and services to children and pregnant women.
Other workshops for providers included surveys, formulas for eligibility and billing.
"This symposium facilitated getting together for better networking," said Denyce Singelton, director at St. Croix AARP. "We figure out challenges and collaborate on solutions."
Those attending the free symposium included the CEOs from Juan F. Luis Hospital and Schneider Regional Medical Center, Lutheran Social Services, the Department of Human Services, the Department of Health, Continuum Care, Havensite Medical Laboratory and Independent Living for Seniors.
Also attending was senatorial candidate Dwain Ford, who said he is concerned about benefits for Virgin Islanders.
"What is more important with our present economy and with our senior citizens that are on a fixed incomes to fight for benefits that at present are not offered to the Virgin Islands?" Ford said. "And if we do not keep on reminding them that we exist, they forget about us."
The symposium was very enlightening, said Martinez Belardo, a registered nurse at La Paz Hospice Care from St. Thomas.
"It was good to see officials and government working together moving in the right direction for a healthy community," Belardo said.
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