Gov. John deJongh Jr. on Wednesday called on members of the Government Employees Services Commission Health Insurance Board to reconsider a planned trip Friday to Las Vegas for a conference and to instead resolve an issue affecting 189 retired V.I. government workers.
The statement released Wednesday night by Government House expressed the governor’s "disappointment" at what he called the panel’s inability to make a decision in the transition from CIGNA Insurance to United Health Care for 189 Medicare-eligible retirees over the age of 65 who are not enrolled in Medicare Part B.
DeJongh urged the board to host meetings in each district to alert these retirees about the potential of their coverage being lost on Oct. 31. But to do so, the board will have to change its travel plans.
“To leave the territory without having resolved this issue would be a blatant disregard of their responsibility and would place the medical and prescription drug coverage for our post-65 retirees at risk," deJongh said.
Enrollment in Medicare Part B was not mandatory under the CIGNA Insurance coverage, but it is a requirement for the post-65 retirees under the UHC insurance coverage, Government House explained. The lack of that coverage for the 189 retirees in question was discovered by Personnel Director Kenneth Hermon and his staff.
The GESC Board missed the 5 p.m. deadline Friday to adopt the recommendation from United Health Care to implement a “bridge” insurance plan that would have covered these 189 retirees from Nov. 1 to June 30, the governor learned Wednesday. United Health Care notified the board via several weekly conference calls and in writing prior to the deadline. The most recent communication took place Oct. 4 to express the urgency of the matter.
"It is completely unacceptable that they were not vigilant to ensure that these retirees are covered, especially since they made the decision to switch from one carrier to the other," the governor said.
"Admittedly it is the responsibility of the retiree to be aware, but given all the issues that revolve around health insurance, it is an effort that is well worth the time and one that employees at the Division of Personnel started in identifying those impacted,” he said.
Hermon said he is “optimistic that the GESC Board can work with CIGNA and UHC to develop an interim solution to avoid those retirees from losing medical coverage for the month of November."
In light of the new mandatory Part B enrollment requirement, the governor urged all retirees and active employees who are within three months of their 65th birthday to contact the Social Security Office at 1-800-772-1231 to discuss their enrollment options in both Medicare Part A and Part B to prevent any unnecessary delays when it’s their turn to transition to the UHC Insurance plan.
Those employees and retirees can also contact the local VI S.H.I.P. Office at 1-340-714-4354 on St. Thomas and 1-340-772-7368 on St. Croix to obtain further information surrounding the Medicare Part A and Part B plans.