76 F
Cruz Bay
Sunday, February 5, 2023
HomeNewsArchivesSenate Just Under the Wire Approving Health-Insurance Agreement

Senate Just Under the Wire Approving Health-Insurance Agreement

Sept. 30, 2008 — On the last day possible, the Senate voted without dissent Tuesday to renew the government's health-insurance agreement between the government of the Virgin Islands and Connecticut General Life Insurance Company (CIGNA), ensuring government workers, retirees and their families will have uninterrupted medical coverage.
Troubled contract negotiations between CIGNA and local provider network V.I. EquiCare delayed until Sept. 15 the presentation of the new government employee insurance contract to the Government Employees Service Commission-Health Insurance Board of Trustees. That gave the Legislature a short window to ratify the contract renewal before the Sept. 30 end-of-the-fiscal-year deadline. (See "Time Tight for Senate to Renew Health Insurance Contract.")
Approximately 30,000 government employees, retirees and their dependents count on the plan for their medical care.
"I don't have a choice but to vote for this bill like the rest of us, and we all know that," said Sen. Terrence "Positive" Nelson. "What I don't like is having to have this sent to us at the last minute, with no choice but to pass it before the contract expires at midnight."
Others expressed similar sentiments.
"It is something to look at; how the Legislature has been placed in this position time and time again, having to make a decision at the last hour," Sen. Patrick Simeon Sprauve said. "We have to make changes, put in an amendment to say we need more time to look it over. But the bottom line is this bill has to pass, because people need insurance." (See "Sprauve Sworn in to Replace Ottley in Senate.")
Sen. Louis Patrick Hill said he would vote for the measure, but more time and more information were necessary for the Legislature to try to address rising health-care costs.
"If we do not find some way to deal with the escalating costs of health care, we face not just an economic but a health crisis," he said. "In the last seven years, the cost of health care for our population has nearly doubled. … What is the root cause behind these escalating costs? We need a clear and concise understanding of what has caused the spectacular increase in the cost of health insurance. Only with these analyses will we be able to determine our course of action and have a solution ready when the contract renewal comes up, once again, next year.”
CIGNA's new contract reflects a 7.7 percent, or $7.4 million, increase over last year.
CIGNA originally requested a 15.4-percent premium increase, amounting to $14.8 million if benefit were kept the same. Some of this is increased fees for doctors and other charges. However, a new law requiring CIGNA's claims reserves be held in a V.I. bank is costing the territory $460,000 to pay for the smaller return the money receives in the local bank as opposed to being invested along with the rest of CIGNA's assets.
The insurance board recommended five changes to the plan to cut down the increase, and the governor's office pared it down to three: eliminating coverage for obesity and bariatric surgery, reducing the number of days allowed for outpatient short-term therapies, and having Virgin Islanders who live or seek medical care on the mainland and Puerto Rico become part of Open Access Plus and PPO networks in those places, which contain costs more and pay doctors less than inside the territory.
The total cost of the medical plan for 2009 under the proposed plan will be $96.5 million. Dental is to cost another $3.7 million and life insurance another $4.3 million, for a grand total of nearly $104.5 million for insurance for medical and life insurance for all government employees, retirees and families. The dental insurance contract is not up for renewal at this time.
Sen. Usie Richards introduced an amendment from Sen. Shawn-Michael Malone requiring that a contract be presented to the governor "not less than 120 days" before the end of the contract and, once approved by the governor, presented to the Legislature "not less than 60 days" before the end of the contract. Currently the law says "not more than" 120 and 60 days, respectively, which prevents the senate from getting a new contract until close to the deadline. The amendment passed with 13 yes votes and two absent. The contract, with the amendment to the code, passed by the same vote.
Voting yea were Richards, Malone, Nelson, Sprauve, Hill, Sens. Liston Davis, Carlton "Ital" Dowe, Juan Figueroa-Serville, Neville James, Norman Jn Baptiste, Ronald Russell, Carmen Wesselhoft, Celestino White and Alvin Williams. Sen. James Weber III was absent.
Back Talk Share your reaction to this news with other Source readers. Please include headline, your name and city and state/country or island where you reside.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Keeping our community informed is our top priority.
If you have a news tip to share, please call or text us at 340-228-8784.

Support local + independent journalism in the U.S. Virgin Islands

Unlike many news organizations, we haven't put up a paywall – we want to keep our journalism as accessible as we can. Our independent journalism costs time, money and hard work to keep you informed, but we do it because we believe that it matters. We know that informed communities are empowered ones. If you appreciate our reporting and want to help make our future more secure, please consider donating.