Congress is staged to pass and president Bush is ready to sign the first major overhaul of Medicare since the 1960s. The plan will effect senior citizens and health-care providers dramatically.
The Virgin Islands hospital systems can be directly impacted by the section governing a boost in payments for rural hospitals. Rural hospitals will receive increased reimbursements of $25 billion over the next 10 years. The funds will be used to offset the already low reimbursement rates for Medicare and to provide compensation to those hospitals that care for a large volume of indigent and uninsured populations.
There are several conditions that the V.I. must adhere to in order to reap the benefits.
The first step is that the V.I. must demonstrate the need through documentation. The application and reimbursement process can be long and arduous. All health facilities must commit the proper attention to the detail of proper documentation and timely filing to build their case for the available funding. We are all aware of the V.I. Code mandate and process of "providing health care regardless of the ability to pay." Hospitals must now capitalize on this opportunity for outside dollars by providing the federal government the documented evidence of need.
The second step is not as quick of a fix. As we know, Medicare is primarily a program for the elderly. Many Virgin Islanders either relocate or commute to the mainland for treatment due to the feeling that they can be better served there. In most cases this is not true. The flight of the elderly can be stemmed through:
– Outreach and promotional programs highlighting hospital events and achievements.
– Encouragement of community participation through telethons and requests for community input as to people's needs and worries.
– Continued demonstration by hospital officials that they want and need the business.
A stable retirement population will encourage current residents to stay and provide an uplift to the economy and will also open the doors to stateside retirees to relocate, thus reversing the current trend.
Does the current Medicare Reform Bill signal that help is on the way? That lies in the hands of the residents of the Virgin Islands!
John J. DeLuca
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