July 11, 2002 – Thanks to a $1 million State Planning Grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the V.I. government's Bureau of Economic Research will soon begin counting residents who don't have health insurance. The study is the first step in finding a way to help those without coverage — estimated at one-third of the population — to obtain it at a cost they can afford, Lauritz Mills, BER director, said.
Sen. Douglas Canton Jr., who chairs the Senate Health and Hospitals Committee, said it will take a federal program to bring health insurance to those who don't already have it in the territory. Financially, the local government "could not underwrite the cost," he said.
Mills said there are indications that about 34 percent of V.I. residents are without health care insurance, which would be the highest rate for any state or territory in the nation. She agreed that it would take help from the federal government to make coverage a reality for those unable to afford it now. "Even if we're not able to provide it for everybody, the target is to reduce it to 20 percent or lower" without coverage, she said.
The study is intended to provide reliable statistics on the territory's uninsured. "We want to put a face on those uninsured and identify the groups," Mills said. The cost of coverage, the failure of many private employers to provide group plans, the territory's 10 percent unemployment rate and the fact that about one-third of its residents live below the federal poverty line are factors, she said.
Lauritz expects the findings to confirm that women, children, the homeless, the aged, those with lower incomes and the self-employed are more likely than other segments of the population to be without health insurance.
The project will begin with a survey of 2,900 homes to be conducted by the University of the Virgin Islands Eastern Caribbean Center. Mills said that the State Heath Access Data Assistance Center at the University of Minnesota is providing computer software to interpret the results. Louis Consulting Group of St. Croix is providing input on Medicare and Medicaid issues and JDJ Associates of St. Croix has assisted, she said.
In addition to the survey, "we'll do focus groups on all three islands," Mills said, referring to St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix.
According to Mills, the Virgin Islands was one of only a dozen states and territories that received such a Health and Human Services grant. "We were able to convince them that we have one of the highest rates of uninsured," she said.
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