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Territories Push for More Money For Medicaid

Sept. 8, 2004 –Virgin Islanders eligible for Medicaid receive just a little more than a tenth of what is the national average, according to the V. I. Medicaid Office.
This disparity, the result of a cap on Medicaid funding for the islands, has been a bone of contention between federal and island officials. Delegate Donna Christensen has made numerous attempts to have it removed. In July she requested the federal General Accountability Office to make a study of its impact on the islands.
This week she joined Delegates Madeleine Bordallo of Guam and Eni Faleomavaega of American Samoa in sponsoring an amendment to the Department of Labor, Health &Human Services and Education Appropriations bill for fiscal year 2005 to provide a 25 percent increase in Medicaid payments to the territories. The amendment would provide and additional $2.5 million a year in Medicaid payments.
The amendment was ruled out of order.
"I want to commend my colleagues from Guam and American Samoa for their leadership in championing increased Medicaid funding for our constituents," Christensen said. "We are going to continue this fight using every opportunity to press our case for more equitable health care funding for all Americans."
A press release from her office stated the territory receives about $436 for each of the approximately 15,000 people eligible for federal Medicaid assistance. The national average is about $3,800 per eligible person.
The release added, because of the cap on Medicaid payments to the territories, the federal government covers only about $6 million of the $15 million in annual Medicaid bills in the Virgin Islands forcing the local government to pick up the difference.
Christensen's most recent effort to lift the Medicaid cap was in a national health care bill, which was sponsored by the Democratic leadership of the House and the Senate in Congress last October. (See "Federal Health Bill Would End V.I. Medicaid Gap" ).
Medicaid is the major public financing program to provide health and long-term care coverage for the nation's low-income residents, and one in 10 Americans is covered, according to testimony before a V.I. Senate committee last year. The assistance is available to those with income of not more than $8,500 and savings of not more than $1,800 for a family of four. Those served include children, pregnant women, the elderly and the totally disabled.
While federal law provides for a 50/50 split in federal and state funding for the program, the V.I. government has ended up paying a much higher proportion because of the $5.59 million federal cap.
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