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Bill Before Congress Would Boost Medicaid in Territory

June 22, 2009 — The draft health reform bill unveiled last week in the U.S. House of Representatives expands Medicaid for the Virgin Islands and other insular areas, but Delegate Donna M. Christensen and her fellow territorial representatives in Congress are working for more.
"Universal coverage should mean just that," Christensen said in a statement from her office. "The proposal does not cover us up to 100 percent of poverty, or map out a way to getting there over 10 years, even though it provides a significant increase."
Christensen and other members of the Congressional Black, Hispanic and Asian-Pacific Islander Caucuses, collectively known as the Tri-Caucus, met with White House and House Leadership over the past several weeks, according to Christensen's office. They have been working to ensure the bill addresses health disparities that affect minority and poor Americans, especially the lack of equity between states and territories in Medicaid coverage.
"The president has promised to work for equity, but as long as cost containment is a driving principle, we will never truly reform the health-care system and provide equal access for all Americans," Christensen said.
In the meantime, the draft version of the bill would help the Virgin Islands.
While the language does not eliminate the cap on Medicaid or provide parity for the territories in the formula used to set local matching funds, it provides $10.35 billion over nine years, split between the five territories based on population, Christensen said. These take effect after the end of the current increases provided by this year's federal stimulus.
"The expansion of funding for people under 133 percent of poverty begins in 2011," Christensen said. "Although we do not have the exact percentages or dollar amounts to report at this time, by all indications it will be an increase of dollars to our hospitals and medical providers."
The House health reform draft is aimed at providing coverage and choice, protecting current coverage and allowing individuals to keep the coverage that they have if they like it, while preserving their choice of doctors, hospitals and health plan, Christensen said.
Among other aspects that may benefit the Virgin Islands, the House draft bill provides more training for nurses, doctors and other health-care professionals, and provides scholarships for those who work in under-served areas, according to Christensen's office. Perhaps most significantly, the House bill also has a government-run plan to compete with private insurers, something still to be determined in two bills being crafted in the Senate.
Christensen said that work on the health-care bill will continue throughout the summer, with a vote on the measure expected before the August recess.
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