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VI Legislature Update: Healthcare and Senior Rights Advocacy

As champions seeking to protect the health and economic security of Virgin Islanders over age 50, AARP Virgin Islands welcomed the opportunity to provide testimony during two very important legislative hearings Oct. 14 and 17.

The first hearing, held Oct. 14, by the Committee on Health and Hospitals, covered two critical pieces of proposed legislation that potentially could have caused great damage to the VI’s health care delivery system: Bills No. 29-0093 and 29-0152.

Bill 29-0093 sought to eliminate government paid malpractice insurance. Bill 29-0152 proposed to remove the requirement for malpractice complaints to be filed with the Medical Malpractice Action Review Committee prior to taking court action. If passed, these two bills could essentially cause physicians and other allied specialty health care professionals to close their practices.

AARP Virgin Islands’ State Director, Denyce Singleton’s testimony highlighted several reasons why these bills would provide no benefit to the Virgin Islands, but instead do irreparable harm to the health delivery system.

Citing the excessively high cost of doing business in the Virgin Islands, the low rate of patients with insurance coverage and the potential for the federal government to not address the looming Medicare crisis with the Sustainable Rate Growth (SGR) Singleton urged VI legislators to reconsider any action that would involve stopping the government from paying malpractice premiums for physicians and other specialty health care providers.

Singleton also testified that removal of the requirement to file a complaint with the Medical Malpractice Action Review Committee would have equally dire consequences. This requirement allows patients to receive an impartial review of their issue and possibly help mediate a resolution. This system allows the health care system to identify internal challenges, it helps both sides avoid a costly and time consuming court resolution, and gets the patient satisfaction quickly.

Following the testimony offered by Singleton and others the bills were tabled indefinitely by an overwhelming vote of fourteen to one.

AARP VI also had the opportunity Oct. 17, to provide testimony for Bill 29-0159, a bill to re-establish the Virgin Islands Commission on Aging (“Commission”). This bill was reviewed in the Legislative Committee on Human Services, Recreation and Sports.

While AARP VI feels that the re-establishment of a Commission on Aging will undoubtedly improve programs and services available to the VI elderly, it also felt that, as drafted, the bill had several points that needed re-consideration.

As proposed the Commission would have been largely composed of government officials already involved in the provision of services to the elderly. Singleton suggested that the new Commission should include members from the community who understand the needs of the elderly and are recipients of the services. She also felt that a representative for veterans and the disabled also needed to be on the Commission.

AARP VI also believes that the Commission would be better served if it was placed under the Department of Human Services and if it’s funding was maintained separately.

AARP also wanted to see the role of the Commission expanded to:

  • Allow for coordination of services into a multi-disciplinary initiative
  • Enable it to provide technical assistance
  • Program evaluation to include quality improvement and audit findings

AARP’s suggestions were considered by the Committee and the bill is being held in committee for a variety of amendments to be added before it is moved forward.

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