June 2, 2006 – It's time for senators to take action on a bill mandating employers to provide universal health care coverage to their employees, according to Gov. Charles W. Turnbull.
In a press release issued by Government House, Turnbull added the bill would help combat the "menace" of rising health care costs and provide relief to 26,000 residents living in the territory without health insurance.
The Senate's Committee on Health, Hospitals and Human Services is scheduled to consider the bill on Monday.
"Now is the opportune time for policy makers, health care professionals and the entire community to come together, find a consensus and move expeditiously to put solutions in place," Turnbull wrote, adding that the Governor's Health Care Reform Initiative is the "first step" in helping to "improve the quality of life for our people."
However, since the bill was introduced in the Legislature last year, health care officials, community representatives, and business owners don't seem to agree. Instead, the measure has been caught up in controversy, as many residents have claimed the bill generates more questions than answers and could put many struggling organizations out of business (See "Affordability and Funding Concerns Remain for Health Care Reform Bill"and "No Vote Taken in Health Committee Meeting on Insurance Bill").
Currently, the bill:
–mandates employers working in the private sector who do not currently provide health care coverage for the employees join a multiple employer trust, a self-insured pool that would give unrelated employers the purchasing power of one large entity.
–states that the employer and employee would split the cost of the premiums, 50-50, estimated at $182 a month for a single person during the first year.
–establishes government-funded assistance to low-income workers; the annual income threshold for this had been raised from $16,000- $23,000.
At a recent Senate meeting, however, Sen. Craig W. Barshinger, chair of the Committee on Health and Hospitals, said that the bill has been redrafted to address the concerns raised during the numerous Senate hearings and public meetings. Still, it is unclear whether or not a vote will be taken on the measure when it comes up for debate during Monday's meeting.
"I believe after nearly four years of development and research and several months of debate and discussion we have arrived at a point for action," Turnbull said in the release.
"We simply cannot continue to ignore the plight of 26,000 Virgin Islanders who have no health insurance."
Monday's hearing will be held at 10 a.m. at the Earle B. Ottley Legislative Hall on St. Thomas.
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