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Testifiers Say Quality Health Care Is a Human Right

April 19, 2007 — Calling for reform and increased funding of health insurance and public transportation, several St. Croix women testified Thursday during a legislative town meeting to the suffering and preventable early deaths many uninsured and lower income families face in the territory.
The meeting, held in Frederiksted, was put on by the Senate Health and Hospitals Committee and health assistance nonprofit group V.I. Perinatal Inc. (VIPI) Committee Chairman Norman Jn Baptiste and the directors of V.I.P.I. recited statistics on income, Medicaid funding and insurance. Then some of Perinatal’s clients and other St. Croix residents put faces on the problem with their personal stories.
“In the last survey, 29 percent of our families are uninsured and 25 percent unemployed,” said Sen. Norman Jn Baptiste, opening the meeting.
“Out of some 40,000 families in the territory, approximately 25 percent are making annual incomes under $10,000. That should be sobering for us,” said Jn Baptiste. “Those statistics were compiled before Act 6905 allowed us to pay a minimum salary of $20,000 to government employees. Hopefully the increase will be extended to other bodies in the territory.”
V.I.P.I. Executive Director Barbara Lee Jackson linked lack of insurance and low incomes directly to premature death.
“A recent study of adults 18 to 65 nationwide showed that care without insurance coverage is often too little too late,” said Jackson. “Those without insurance are more likely to go without care than people with insurance. They have poorer health and die prematurely. They are less likely to receive preventive and early treatment.”
Theresa Khodra, a dialysis patient told how, despite being vegan and very health conscious, she wound up in the hospital with a kidney infection. A year later, friends and family made her see a doctor when she began to rapidly lose weight. She discovered her blood pressure was sky high and her kidneys collapsed. Now Khendra feels financially trapped.
“If I make enough to take care of myself MAP (Virgin Islands Medical Assistance Program) tells me my wages are too high," said Khodra, who earns $240 a week when able to put in a full schedule. Going to dialysis three times a week sometimes cuts her hours at work, lowering her income to $100 a week.
“Medicaid says my income is too high and I cannot save a dollar,” said Khodra. “I don’t want to rely on the government, I want to help myself, but it seems no one will help me do that. I have to work, but I can see how people stay at home. That’s the only way to get help; that or lie — and you shouldn’t have to do that.”
Naisha Monell has insurance, but her mother, who has kidney disease, does not.
“When my mother found out she had kidney stones, we tried all different avenues to get health care and whatever we tried was shot down each time,” said Monell. “As my mother’s pain grew stronger we made countless trips to the hospital and the doctor for outpatient treatment. But without cash, often there was no treatment.”
Monell told how she tried, without success to get her mother onto her own government insurance, then onto the Health Department’s Medical Assistance Program. As medical bills mount up, it becomes impossible to pay for treatment, leading to more deterioration, heading down the slope toward kidney failure. Being ill takes money away too.
“If she gets the surgery, that’s a month without working, making no money and then trying to find a new job,” said Monell. “I cry from the stress of worrying what to do tomorrow, I can’t imagine what it is like for her.”
Others told how they had to choose between pain and blood pressure medication, took themselves off insurance to be able to insure their children, and otherwise did without. One woman told of her mother’s struggle with cancer. Unable to endure trying to fly to St. Thomas on the sea plane while violently ill with chemotherapy, her mother chose to die rather than continue to attempt it. Another woman told of a family member who passed away because her age and illness made the long walk to a bus stop for her many medical trips too difficult to keep up. In both cases, the difficulty of getting access to care shortened their lives.
Nearly all of those who spoke ended by endorsing some kind of universal health care, speaking of it as a human right.
“We need to put in a system where everyone gets great health care, said Debbie Christopher, a St. Croix resident there to talk about her experience with her ill mother. “Whether we have insurance or not, we shouldn’t be treated differently,” she said.
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