April 17, 2002 – The Senate Rules Committee on Wednesday called on Congress to remove a cap on Medicaid dollars that they say unfairly affects health care in this and other U.S. territories.
The committee chair, Sen. Carlton Dowe, and the other five committee members present — Sens. Donald "Ducks" Cole, Alicia "Chucky" Hansen, Almando "Rocky" Liburd, Norma Pickard-Samuel and Celestino A. White Sr. — all voted for the resolution. Sen. Adelbert Bryan was absent.
Hansen, who introduced the resolution, said the cap creates a lower standard of health care for the territory's poor and elderly than they would receive if they lived in the one of the 50 states. "It is a major problem. We lose millions of dollars every year in the Virgin Islands," she said.
The territory receives about $436 for each of the approximately 15,000 people eligible for federal Medicaid assistance, Hansen said. The national average is about $3,800 per eligible person, her resolution states.
According to Delegate Donna Christian Christensen, the federal government restricts the allocation of Medicaid funds to the U.S. territories and Puerto Rico in part because the territories do not pay taxes into the Medicaid fund.
Because of the cap, the federal government covers only about $6 million of the $15 million in annual Medicaid bills in the territory, leaving the local government to pick up the difference, according to statistics from Christensen's office. That federal portion is far lower than what is paid in any state, the delegate said.
Christensen and the delegates from other territories have repeatedly introduced legislation in Congress to remove the Medicaid cap. But the delegates have not been granted a committee hearing on the matter since 1997, Brian Modeste, the delegate's legislative director, said.
No senators have expressed opposition to the resolution now before the Legislature, which next goes to the full Senate for a vote. The resolution is simply a request to Congress and the Bush administration to change the allocation of Medicaid funds, but Christensen said she sees it as a sign that the territory will keep the issue in the forefront.
"We welcome the resolution because we've been trying to develop as much support as possible," she said. "This issue has been among my top priorities."
About 44 million low-income Americans are expected to receive about $260 billion in Medicaid funds in 2002, according to statistics from the National Governors Association.
Removal of the Medicaid cap for the Virgin Islands would cost the federal government less than $10 million a year, Modeste said. But he said Congress probably would only consider lifting the cap for all of the territories, something that would cost more than $100 million, which he said may be too high a price to be acceptable.
Delegates from the territories have been trying to get the cap raised incrementally over a number of years, given the odds against it being lifted in its entirety, Modeste said.
Nominees, farmland leasing cap win approval
In other action Wednesday, the Rules Committee:
– Unanimously approved three nominees to the V.I. Conservation District Board of Supervisors for the St. Thomas/St. John District: Charles Deyalsingh, a farmer for 18 years in the Bethany area of St. John; Mary Alexander, a farmer of 20 years in Dorothea on St. Thomas; and Chaneel Callwood-Daniels of the Historic Preservation Office.
Alexander said she would work to support the board's objectives of promoting water quality and conservation education and public awareness, "at the same time keeping in mind that
people have to earn a living." She said she is "concerned that the Virgin Islands become more self-sufficient and autonomous, but at the same time the fragile nature of our environment not be negatively impacted or degraded any more than has already occurred."
– Unanimously approved the nomination of Francis Jackson to serve on the Roy L. Schneider Hospital board. Jackson, a 24-year resident of the Virgin Islands and graduate of Georgetown University Law School, pledged to remain independent in his decisions if appointed to the board. He said he would like to see the hospital become a regional hub for health care and that his priorities would include strengthening the nursing program and collecting all money owed to the hospital.
– Unanimously approved the nomination of Robert O'Connor to the Port Authority board. O'Connor, whose previous term on the board expired, said that when he joined the board six years ago, the Port Authority was in the red fiscally, but that due to the diligence of the board, it now operates in the black thanks to revenue-generating projects and measures that were put in place.
– Unanimously approved a bill specifying that the rate charged farmers for government land leased for agricultural purposes not exceed $20 per acre per year.
All of the measures now must go before the full Senate.
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