A total of 43 percent of government workers who are enrolled in the government’s health insurance program have chronic conditions that account for 74 percent of the costs, Personnel Division Assistant Director Kendra Roach told the Legislature’s Finance Committee during budget hearings Friday. It was held at the Legislature’s Fritz A Lawaetz Conference Room on St. Croix.
Roach said those chronic conditions include heart and renal issues as well as diabetes and hypertension, adding that they are “largely preventable.”
Catastrophic claims totaled $129,000 in 2013, Roach said, accounting for 7.8 percent of the claims, up from 6.2 percent the previous year.
Roach, Personnel Director Kenneth L. Hermon Jr. and Rochelle Benjamin, who is acting chief of the group health insurance program, were at the Legislature to present the division’s $2.9 million Fiscal Year 2014 budget. Of that figure, $2.5 million comes from the general fund and $426,915 from the indirect cost fund. The division has 42 employees.
To combat the health care problems among government workers, Roach said the Personnel Division has put in place a program called Helping Employees Achieve Long-term Health. “Bad habits are costing them money,” Roach said.
Hermon pointed out their there is a health coach at the Personnel Division offices on each island to help improve wellness. He said the health coaches can also screen for things like blood pressure.
Benjamin said the government health insurance covers about 14,995 people. Of that figure, 8,028 are government workers and 6,967 are retirees.
Benjamin estimated that the cost to the government will run $135 million in this fiscal year. Roach later said that health insurance premiums rose about 60 percent during the last seven years.
Hermon said that the division is developing a program called Equal Employment Opportunity to deal with discrimination issues.
“The goal of the EEO unit is to provide departments and agencies with the required tools and partnership opportunities to ensure that all employees of the government of the Virgin Islands enjoy a work environment free from unlawful discrimination,” he said.
Hermon said he also plans to update the government’s personnel manual, the first time since 1981.
In outlining ways to improve efficiency, Hermon said employees will be able to get their direct deposit check stubs via email. Sen. Alicia “Chucky” Hansen took issue with that, saying that some people, particularly retirees, do not have access to computers.
Hermon countered by indicating that those that can’t use computers where they work will be able to utilize those at the computer centers set up via the V.I. Next Generation Network. He also said they could be printed at the Personnel office, but Hansen said she was worried about privacy.
Hermon said the executive branch of the government currently has 6,877 workers, down from 8,845 in 2007 thanks to a hiring freeze and attrition program in place between 2008 and 2010 as well as the more recent layoffs of government workers due to the poor fiscal condition of the government.
Finance Committee Chairman Clifford Graham, Sens. Judi Buckley, Donald Cole, Myron Jackson, Terrence “Positive” Nelson and Clarence Payne attended the meeting. Noncommittee members attending included Hansen, Sens. Tregenza Roach and Kenneth Gittens.