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Monday, June 27, 2022
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Christensen Plans Healthcare Townhall in Frederiksted

The Health Braintrust of the Congressional Black Caucus will visit Frederiksted this month to held explain how the Affordable Care Act will benefit Virgin Islanders and others Americans living in minority communities across the country, Delegate Donna Christensen’s office announced.

The law, known as Obamacare, is "a giant step forward for all Americans, including those who live in the U.S. Virgin Islands and other offshore territories," Christensen said.

Christensen chairs the Health Braintrust, which will conduct a daylong townhall meeting July 20 at the Frederiksted Health Center. The session is entitled, “Making Good Health My Reality.”

Members of Congress, officials from the Department of Health and Human Services and local officials will interact in the program addressing such topics as: How does health care reform apply to the U.S. Virgin Islands; What is happening with Medicaid and the Health Insurance Exchanges; and the role of community health centers in providing care under the tenets of the new law.

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Christensen said her colleagues Lacy Clay of Missouri and Gregorio Sablan of the Northern Marianas are scheduled to join her at the meeting. Sablan will share how the Northern Marianas plans to implement the new law. She has also invited Dr. J. Nadine Gracia, deputy assistant secretary for minority affairs and director of the Office of Minority Health from the Department of Health and Human Services to discuss what the federal government is doing to educate people in the territory about the benefits of the health care law and how Medicaid expansion and the health insurance exchanges will facilitate those benefits.

“We have invited the governor, and the chair of the Legislature’s Health Committee, Sen. Clarence Payne, to join a robust discussion on the implementation of reform in the Virgin Islands,” Christensen said. “We expect Virgin Islands health and human services officials to give an update on plans to strengthen and expand Medicaid and to implement a health exchange.”

Christensen said community health centers, such as their hosts for the town hall meeting will be critical as the law is implemented. Pointing out that Virgin Islands community health centers have already received $1.6 million in grants, she said that Masserae Sprauve Webster and Dr. Jamila Benn will speak about how the centers can and should replace emergency rooms for primary care and non-emergency services.

After a question-and-answer session with the community, the day will conclude with a Community Health Screening Fair that will include on-site health screenings from certified health providers and the dissemination of critical information.

The delegate said that while the offshore territories will benefit from their overall inclusion in the law, they will still have to fight to receive parity in some key provisions. She recounted the efforts she led to include the territories as the massive law was being formulated in the Congress.

“My territorial colleagues and I, after many meetings and arguments put forth in the Democratic Caucus, and with support of the Black, Hispanic and Progressive Caucuses, convinced leadership to craft a bill with strong territorial provisions which passed the House,” she said.

Under the bill which became law and was upheld by the Supreme Court one year ago, the territory receive "significant benefits that took a lot of work to achieve,” Christensen said.
Those benefits include:

• Access to over $40 million for the last two fiscal years with more to come

• A 55% federal/45% local Medicaid match (with VI health spending serving as the match)

• $1 billion for territories for health exchanges

• Consumer protections such as young people insured to age 26, children with pre-existing conditions such as asthma, diabetes and sickle cell not being denied coverage, and no lifetime limits.

• Community health centers funded at $1.6 million so far.

• Increase of National Health Corps physicians

• $1 million to the Virgin Islands to explore expanding insurance coverage and setting up of an exchange.

• $5 million for a visiting nurse program.

• $250 rebate to seniors who fell into the Medicare prescription drug donut hole.

• More than half of Medicare beneficiaries received benefits without a co-pay and a free annual exam.

• $1.6 million in insurance rebates to Virgin Islanders, at an average of $500 per person.

• Small business tax credits of as much as 35 percent of their costs for insuring employees. This credit increases to 50 percent for the second year. Many VI businesses do not take advantage of this, Christensen said.

Christensen said it is up to the Virgin Islands government whether or not to implement an exchange. The $25 million can go to further expand Medicaid in the territory or provide coverage for the uninsured that do not qualify for Medicaid.

“As implementation continues, there are still issues that need to be resolved in both the states and territories,” she said. However, there is no question that we in the Virgin Islands are in a far better position than we were prior to the Affordable Care Act.”

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