In a session that lasted most of the day Tuesday, the V.I. Senate ratified insurance agreements between Cigna and government employees that are already in effect, drawing objection from lawmakers who thought they should have been given a say before the fact.
Sen. Alicia Hansen was one of the senators unhappy with the process.
“I don’t know of any meetings that took place with Cigna and they didn’t think they should be here to answer the people’s representatives’ questions,” Hansen said.
She said that in previous years senators were able to negotiate better deals with the insurance provider.
Sen. Positive Nelson agreed with the basics of the agreement and commended members of the Finance Committee who had met with Cigna in Boston to negotiate changes better for employees than Cigna’s original offer. But he chastised the committee for not inviting him to its meeting with Cigna when he happened to be in Boston at the same time. He said going into the meeting without all the senators was like getting into a fight “with one arm tied behind your back.”
On the other hand, Sen. Nereida Rivera-O’Reilly was happy with the work that was done.
“Things went differently this year and I am proud to have been part of the process,” she said.
Sen. Jean Forde also said he was pleased with the process. He said not only would the original proposal have raised the rates significantly for everyone, but retirees over 65 would have been thrown off the plan. He said this could add $500 to a retiree’s monthly bill.
“Do we want to kill people?” he asked.
Sen. Brian Smith approved the measures but said he was “very, very concerned about the lack of respect” shown the senate by the insurance company sending no representatives to the hearing. He said the Virgin Islands was giving the company $160 million worth of business and they were showing no respect.
“After doing business with them for 16 years, we would think about pulling the plug,” he threatened.
Senate President Myron Jackson commended Finance Committee chairman Sen. Kurt Vialet for his work in the discussions with Cigna. Jackson said the original Cigna proposal had employee costs for insurance going up almost 16 percent, but after discussions the hike was only 4.4 percent.
Vialet said, “We told them we could not pay more and receive less.”
Sen. Dwayne DeGraff said he had no problem with the bills as they were, but as to the process, he said, “We can do better.”
When the bills finally reached the floor, Hansen was the only senator to vote no. The measures were:
– Bill No. 32-0196 – An Act ratifying Agreement for Group Life with ALIC Life Insurance Company for Life and Accidental Death and Dismemberment Insurance Agreement.
– Bill No. 32-0199 – An Act ratifying and approving the Fifth Amendment to the Agreement for Medical Health Insurance and the First Amended and Restarted Agreement for Medical Health Insurance between the Government of the Virgin Islands and United Healthcare Insurance Company and its affiliates.
– Bill No. 32-0201 – An Act ratifying the Fourth Renewal of the Group Medical Health Insurance Agreement.
– Bill No. 32-0202 – An Act ratifying the First Agreement for Group Dental Health Insurance by and between the Government of the Virgin Islands and Cigna Health and Life Insurance Company.
The bills will be forwarded to Gov. Kenneth Mapp for his signature. Mapp had recommended that employees pay a higher percentage of the insurance costs, but that was rejected in the final proposal.