The Legislature approved renewal of the V.I. Government health, life and dental insurance plans Thursday, but not before expressing frustration that the plan was yet again being submitted at the last minute with no time to review or renegotiate anything.
"We have on a consistent basis asked the ‘players that be’ not to submit the health insurance package in the waning days of the existing contract," Senate President Neville James said during a Committee of the Whole hearing on the package Wednesday.
"Unfortunately it continues to happen on a consistent basis,” James said, later adding, “At some point the Legislature will take a stand and actually reject what I believe is, whether intentional or unintentional, a level of disrespect," he said.
James said V.I. law requires the package be submitted to the Legislature further ahead of the end of the contract than the contract was provided this year or most years. The existing contract expires at the end of September.
The Legislature has raised this same concern nearly every time the insurance contract is before it, going back at least to 2001. (See: SENATE APPROVES INSURANCE PLAN AMID PROTESTS in Related Links below)
The plan itself will provide nearly identical services for nearly the same direct cost to the V.I. government as last year, according to Beverly Joseph, chairwoman of the Government Employee Services Commission, which negotiates the contract.
She said the main health insurance provider, Cigna, had argued it should get a 13.6 percent increase, based on actual claims experience, but had agreed to keep rates unchanged for another year. In exchange, Cigna would get to keep on deposit any funds in its premium stabilization fund, except for $2.5 million to supplement the government’s insurance payment, according to Joseph.
Premiums for government retirees over age 65, under United Health Care, will increase slightly and dental insurance premiums through Cigna are projected to increase by 1 to 5 percent. Joseph said the full cost for insurance coverage will be increasing slightly from $157.5 million in Fiscal Year 2016 to $157.6 million in FY17. This is an increase of about $100,000, which she said is attributable to the United HealthCare Medicare Supplement portion.
Before approving the package Thursday, senators approved an amendment requiring insurers to cover telemedicine. The package was approved unanimously, with all senators present.