March 31, 2006 – A bill attempting to provide health care insurance for all V.I. residents was the subject of two meetings this week and will be the focus of two more upcoming meetings.
About 25 people attended the Town Hall Meeting at the University of Virgin Islands on St. Croix Wednesday night. Sen. Craig Barshinger sponsored the meeting. Dr. Jacqueline Hoop-Sinicrope, project manager of the Health Care Reform Initiative, and Lauritz Mills, director of the V.I. Bureau of Economic Research, answered questions.
Hoop-Sinicrope also made a presentation to St Croix Chamber of Commerce the evening prior.
Barshinger said Friday, "I think we have had enough input on this bill and it is time to move forward to the committee level." He said a meeting of the Committee on Senate Health, Hospital and Human Services is tentatively set for April 10 where the bill will be examined and possibly forwarded to the Rules Committee.
Barshinger said sponsors have received input at four different meetings and the bill has been completely rewritten since it was presented to the Senate in January.
The St. Croix Chamber plans talk about the bill again at its business luncheon April 5 at Gertrude's Restaurant.
Chamber President Diane Butler said from her business, Twin City Coffee Shop in Christiansted, that she was completely against the bill. "I want to see them scrap it," she said.
Butler said she hoped local residents had heard enough about the bill that they would come out in force against it. The invitation to the Chamber meeting says, "You should be scared, very scared, come learn the facts."
According to the invitation, the law would require the private sector to shoulder the burden of "mandatory" health insurance and it would be a government run, self-funded plan.
Barshinger took exception to the categorizing the program as being run by the government. He said the government was simply "authorizing the program."
Butler also raised questions about the priority of a new firm, Employment Business Solutions, being chosen to administer and manage the day-to-day operations of the Mutual Employment Trust, which would offer low cost insurance plan to V.I. businesses.
Barshinger said, "I have seen no red flags rise that would indicate that this was special interest legislation." He said the contract with the government offered no exclusivity. "Anyone can offer these services." Barshinger also said that no business would be required to become part of MET, that they can get insurance anywhere and that he hoped local insurance companies would see the opportunity of 15,000 people, now uninsured, becoming customers.
He said there had been so much emphasis on the MET portion of the bill that the most important parts of the bill were being overlooked.
The MET is what employers who do not provide other coverage would be required to join. This self-insured pool would give unrelated employers the purchasing power of one large entity.
Under the program proposed by EBS, the employer and employee would split the cost of the premiums 50-50, estimated at $182 a month for a single person for the first year.
The bill also establishes government-funded assistance to low-income workers. Barshinger said that threshold had been raised from $16,000 to $23,000.
The program would split the cost of the premiums three ways – with employer, employee and the government each picking up a third of the tab.
Barshinger said the main thrust of the bill is that it would require all employers to provide health insurance and pay for half the premium.
He added that the goal of the bill was to change the focus from the idea that Virgin Islanders could get poor health care for free to the idea that they could get excellent health care for a small price.
Butler said the bill is "anti business" and that the Chamber had given the government a list of actions that can benefit the uninsured without passing such a bill.
Any resident who still wants to give input on the bill is invited to call the Barshinger's office at 712-2315.
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