Senators in the Rules and Judiciary Committee Friday tabled a bill outlining how to spend a $39.5 million windfall from Medicaid.
The bill was introduced early last month and voted out of the Senate Finance Committee. It was special ordered to the Committee of the Whole and from there bounced back to the Rules and Judiciary Committee.
The legislation had run into several stumbling blocks. One objection is that the appropriation allowed no money for St. Thomas East End Medical Center and Frederiksted Health Care, who, representatives said, had provided some of the care for which Medicaid was belatedly funding.
Another objection was raised by Gov. Albert Bryan, who did not want any of the money to go for raises to government employees.
“We clearly understand that employees want their raises and they deserve them, but we must change course, and unlike the past, take care of our existing debts before we start creating new ones,” Bryan said.
Medicaid is paying the Virgin Island $39.5 million because an audit of cost reports for 2011-2013 showed Medicare had underpaid U.S. Virgin Islands medical facilities. The Senate bill had proposed that the lion’s share of the money go to help the territory’s hospitals and the Water and Power Authority by paying down the bills the hospitals owed WAPA. In early June WAPA Executive Director Lawrence Kupfer told the Senate those payments to WAPA were critical so WAPA could pay its vendors and keep the lights on.
Committee Chair Janelle Sarauw asked twice before the tabling of the measure if any senator wanted to add an amendment to it.
Sen. Novelle Francis said the purpose in tabling the measure was to introduce another bill addressing the concerns raised.
The Committee did move forward an act amending the V.I. Code concerning trade name renewals. The bill, proposed by Sen. Athneil Thomas, raises the fee from $50 to $100. He said the fee has not been raised in 26 years and with this amendment the V.I. Government would raise an additional $200,000 per year.