Senator Craig Barshinger has just informed the Virgin Islands' medical community that there will be a meeting of the major stakeholders to finalize changes to the mandatory health insurance bill tomorrow on St. Thomas. "We apologize for any inconveniences due to the short notice given," the memo said.
While physicians need to remain responsible and constructive with regards to the proposed mandatory health insurance, it doesn't appear that our lawmakers abide by the same standard. Thirty-six hours notice and a meeting on a different island "to finalize changes!" This is a government of, by and for the people.
The majority of people aware of the specifics of this proposed legislation are opposed to it, with good reason: both Chambers of Commerce, physicians, small businesses and their employees, and the CEO of JFL hospital, all of whom the bill supposedly benefits. The majority of VI residents aren't aware of the expense that is being placed on their shoulders. This is not "stakeholder input" and we must protest if it is presented to the public as such.
The VI legislature has amassed a $2 billion debt- a staggering $17,900 for every VI man, woman, and child. They are now contemplating passing a bill with a $50-100 million annual price tag without any financial impact assessment. (Any mandatory expenditure passed by the government is a tax.) Responsibility and analysis on their part are in order prior to the "feel good" emotion of railroading this through.
The cost of this project, to be bourn exclusively by small businesses and their employees in a 50:50 manner, will devastate commerce in the Virgin Islands. Many employers will be hard pressed to pay for this insurance. 85 percent of businesses in the territory have less than 10 employees. Employers won't be able to afford employees and employees won't be able to afford to be employed.
Sounds like a lot of unemployment. The working uninsured, after all, either don't want health insurance or can't afford it. Forcing them to purchase it doesn't address either issue. VI citizens will not forget who drove them into a lower standard of living, unemployment, or from the islands altogether: the governor and the senators who vote in favor of this.
Democracy embraces debate. Let us work together to create affordable insurance for those who want it, maintain healthy competition, and make sure that the plan is fiscally sound, provides quality care and has appropriate safeguards for all concerned. Good work takes time. This issue is too complex and too costly (in money and jobs) to ramrod through tomorrow and under the ruse of "stakeholder input".
Dr. Edward J. Miller
St. Croix, USVI
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