Oct. 25, 2002 – Researchers working through the University of the Virgin Islands are reaching out to households across the territory to find out how many have access to affordable health insurance and how many do not.
UVI's Eastern Caribbean Center is conducting telephone surveys to obtain the data.
Center director Frank Mills, who also is directing the insurance research project, says that over the next 10 weeks data collectors will call homes at random on St. Thomas, St. Croix, St. John and Water Island. The information they get from survey respondents will be used to create statistical profiles of uninsured and underinsured families that in turn will be used to identify ways to make affordable health insurance coverage available to all.
"The results of the survey will be used by the Virgin Islands government to develop a plan or to propose options that would ensure every citizen access to affordable health insurance benefits," Mills said.
In addition to asking about insurance coverage, callers will ask respondents about their household size, age, the relationships of individuals within the household, general health care, race, ethnicity and other demograpics. "The public is assured of the complete confidentiality of the information gathered," a UVI release stated, and the information obtained will be used only for statistical purposes.
Meantime, a separate but related survey will be made of V.I. businesses, seeking to determine how many provide insurance benefits to their employees, how affordable such coverage is, and what's available to employers in the insurance market.
Mills, who is in charge of U.S. Census data gathering in the Virgin Islands, said the insurance surveys are being carried out with a planning grant from the V.I. government.
The U.S. Census Bureau recently released information on health insurance coverage of mainland populations. Mills said the Census Bureau obtained the data via one of the smaller surveys it conducts in between the big 10-year counts. In the Virgin Islands, he said, such supplemental surveys have not been done — until now.
Some experts who deal with matters related to health care and insurance in the territory say they expect the survey results to show a tremendous need for a comprehensive strategy to insure a vulnerable population and safeguard financially the system that provides most of its health care.
According to Roy L. Schneider Hospital's chief executive, Rodney Miller, the burden created by a large uninsured population can ruin the financial health of an institution such as Schneider Hospital. "It's dire for us, because our highest payer percentage is self-pay, which is no pay. Most of that is indigent care, which means there is no insurance." he said.
Miller said about 40 percent of people receiving care at Schneider Hospital are self pay patients. Institutions across the country that are comparable to RLS start running into financial distress when their self pay rate hits 10 percent, he said.
Getting the numbers right is one of the keys to the V.I. health insurance survey, according to Mills. The project was designed with the help of University of Minnesota researchers, who came to the territory to train the data collectors and who will analyze the data collected. What they find will ultimately be reported to Government House.
An initial test of the telephone survey system took place last week, Mills said, and the actual surveying began this week and will continue through December.
Funding for the project is being provided in part by the Health Resources and Services Administration within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. "The federal government supports the gathering of information which the local agency would use to develop a plan to ensure that every citizen has access to affordable health insurance benefits," Mills said.
Nationwide, there are currently more than 40 million Americans who are not covered by some form of health insurance.

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