Nov. 21, 2005 Delegate Donna M. Christensen finds herself in a dilemma concerning the budget reconciliation act now working its way through the U.S. Congress.
She has worked for years on bringing Medicaid funding in the Virgin Islands up to par with the states.(See "Christensen Lobbies Feds on Concerns for the V.I.").
Although the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 is not about to do that, Christensen and delegates from the other territories got it amended so that it would provide a 33 percent increase in Medicaid funding in 2006 and an additional increase of 66 percent in 2007 to the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.
In a press release Monday, Christensen said the amendment was a joint effort between her and Delegate Madeleine Bordallo, Delegate Eni Faleomavaega of American Samoa , and Congressman Dan Burton of Indiana.
In a telephone interview Tuesday, she said this will still leave Medicaid funding in the Virgin Islands well below what residents on the mainland receive. She said that U.S. government officials cite the fact that V.I. residents don't pay taxes to the federal government as a reason for not fully funding Medicaid in the Virgin Islands.
She fully supports the amendment as a step in the right direction. She says she can see the funding for the Virgin Islands continue increasing in subsequent years.
The dilemma is that the rest of the bill has huge cuts in other social programs like Food Stamps and Pell Grants. She said, "If these cuts go through everyone is going to be hurt."
Her hope is that when the Senate gets through tinkering with the bill in upcoming weeks the proposed cuts will be gone and the increased funding for Medicaid in the Virgin Islands remains.
This is a lot for which to hope. Last year the territories succeeded in getting a similar amendment on the House budget bill, but the Senators took it out.
The formula used to determine how much money is sent to the Virgin Islands was the subject of a recent report from the Government Accountability Office .
(See "Analysis: V.I. Shortchanged by Federal Medical Funds Formulae").
Christensen said in her press release. "Our accomplishment to date, while by no means a done deal would not have occurred without the strong support of the former Chairman of the House Government Affairs Committee, Congressman Dan Burton and the support of the Chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, Joe Barton."
If the increase in funding survives the congressional legislative process, the Virgin Islands would see a $2.5 million increase in Medicaid Funding for FY 2006 and a $5 million increase in FY 2007.
Christensen added, "We were very close to receiving an additional $2 million in Medicaid funding last year, which we lost at the very last minute. In light of the funding shortfall identified in the recently released GAO report, if the proposed funding holds, it would more than make-up for the disappointment we suffered last year."
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