The USVI Senate on Thursday approved the renewal of the group health insurance for government employees, despite concerns about a 12.85 percent rate increase.
Meeting as the committee of the whole, the 11 senators in attendance unanimously approved Bill 33-0193, which ratifies the renewal of group medical health insurance agreement signed Sept. 6 by Gov. Albert Bryan.
Beverly Joseph, the chairwoman of the GESC Health Insurance Board of Trustees, said the original negotiations with Cigna Health resulted in substantially higher rate increases. She said the medical plan through Feb. 28, 2019, would have seen a 25.2 percent renewal-rate increase starting on Oct. 1, assuming no changes to the current plan design were made.
“However, after deliberative negotiations with Cigna, they agreed to reduce the increase to 19 percent,” and later 12.85 percent, Joseph said.
But senators weren’t pleased with these numbers and questioned how negotiations took place.
“Is there an opportunity for us to see lower fees, I mean that is the question of the day,” Sen. Donna Frett-Gregory said.
Currently, 65 percent of the insurance cost is paid by the government and 35 percent by the employees and retirees, an out of pocket expense that Health Insurance Board Member Adelbert Bryan said was just too high.
Bryan also questioned the entire process for how negotiations for health insurance takes place.
“I have a problem with this process because the board is elected by the people, so the board should have adequate representation,” he said.
He said he has noticed negotiations wait to the last minute, adding that the board on which he serves is supposed to have nine members, but only has five. Bryan questioned the legality of the board when making decisions when the board is not full. He concluded his statement by saying the contracts presented were “ridiculous” and “abominable.”
But George Rosenberg, board chairman of V.I. Equicare, Inc., said there was not a strong likelihood of lowering fees and explained negotiations for rates is not a solitary event. Negotiations “are constantly being done and they are constantly being concluded. I am not trying to be evasive,” Rosenberg said.
“The way the process actually works is we would receive a list of codes, be it from Cigna or any other insurance company, that they feel are too high. And with that we will negotiate with the providers, because Equicare doesn’t make the fee schedules.”
Rosenberg said negotiations are going on with Cigna Health for lower fees, but they are awaiting response from Cigna Health. “But we have not looked at the fee schedule as an across the board decrease. We have looked at individual fees that seem excessive and negotiate those.”
The entire projected cost for the whole insurance package is more than $170 million, according to consultant Kurt Gehring, “which includes all the medical, dental, life, vision, under 65 … and all the retiree costs as well.” Currently Gehring said the cost is just over $154 million, $16 million less.
Chief of the Health Insurance Division Valerie Clarke-Daley said there are 13,895 employees that are actively enrolled between the current employees and retirees, with making up 6,904 of the 13,895.
Sens. Alicia Barnes, Allison DeGazon, Kenneth Gittens, and Stedmann Hodge were absent and did not vote.