Dec. 20, 2002 – The first phase of a study designed to take a comprehensive look at who has health insurance in the Virgin Islands, who doesn't, and why has been completed by the Eastern Caribbean Center at the University of the Virgin Islands.
Center director Frank Mills says he hopes when the work is completed it will lead to dramatic improvements in the ability of the average person to access quality health care in the territory.
Researchers spent more than six weeks designing and carrying out a telephone survey of 1,764 Virgin Islands households on the subject of health insurance. Mills, who directed the 1990 and 2000 Census counts in the territory, wanted to collect enough information to ensure a small margin of error and insure its reliability. "Our target was 1,750," he said of the number of survey respondents. "We wound up with 1,764."
So far the researchers only have hints as to what proportion of Virgin Islanders have health insurance, and those figures come from earlier surveys that touched on the subject, Mills said. Those sketchy figures suggest that about one third of the population has no health insurance. Officials at Roy L. Schneider Hospital say that based on the information patients supply on their admission forms, the number may be higher still.
Among the 50 states, New Mexico's population has the least insurance coverage. Nearly 28 percent of all New Mexicans have no health insurance, according to figures from the U.S. Census Bureau.
The responses to the V.I. survey questions were entered directly into a computerized system, and Mills said he won't know what participants had to say about their ability to obtain and use health insurance until the Eastern Caribbean Center's research partners at the University of Minnesota analyze the data. For the university's Health Service Research Administration, the study is the first of its kind involving a U.S. territory.
Last week, Mills said, a program representative visiting the Virgin Islands told the ECC personnel the Minnesota researchers were impressed by the speed with which the household phone survey portion of the study was carried out. "Some of the states have had difficulty completing this," he said.
In the next phase of the V.I. study, set to begin in January, researchers will examine the role played by the business sector in making health insurance available to employees. Mills said information for this part of the research will be gathered from business executives and their representatives taking part in a series of focus group discussions.
By the end of March, Mills said, the ECC researchers, with the help of the Bureau of Economic Research, hope to produce a preliminary report of their findings. Their aim is to provide enough information by then to guide government decision makers seeking to increase the portion of the population that is covered by health insurance.
Partial funding of the study is being provided by the V.I. government.
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