July 20, 2004 – Delegate Donna M. Christensen and the insular territories' other representatives in Congress have asked the General Accountability Office to study the impact on their jurisdictions of the Medicaid cap and other disparities between health-care programs for their islands and those for the states.
Christensen said in a release issued on Tuesday that the requested study will look at health care in general in the insular areas. The GAO, which on July 7 changed its name from the General Accounting Office, is the investigative arm of Congress. Independent and nonpartisan, it recommends legislative actions aimed at improving government operations.
The study "will be critical in justifying why the Medicaid funding cap should be removed and in identifying legislative solutions to improve health care in the Virgin Islands," Christensen said.
The cap on Medicaid funding available to the Virgin Islands as of 2003 was $5.59 million a year, based on per capita income. The territory receives about $436 in federal funding for each of the approximately 15,000 residents eligible for Medicaid assistance, while the national average for 2000 was $3,862 per eligible person.
The disparity has long been a bone of contention between the territories and the federal government; Christensen has been among those seeking annually, so far without success, to change the law. (For the most recent effort, see "Federal Health Bill Would End V.I. Medicaid Gap".)
Christensen said in Tuesday's release that the primary objectives of the GAO study are to identify solutions to improve the overall health of people living in the territories, and to assess structural needs to implement health-promotion and disease-prevention strategies.
The study also, according to the release, will examine:
– The capacity of public and private health-care systems to offer comprehensive medical, dental and mental health services.
– The effect of health-care costs on the services provided at all stages of disease.
– Strategies the territories can employ to expand health-care coverage and eliminate health disparities.
Eliminating disparities in health care "is in the interest of the territories as a whole and the Virgin Islands in particular," Christensen said.
The GAO will solicit the input of local health-care professionals, community-based organizations and individual citizens and will review relevant studies already done and under way. The agency will announce the time frame and the personnel to be detailed to the study, the release stated.
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