As the United States celebrates the first anniversary of the signing of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) on March 23, many people are wondering what tangible changes have transpired during the last 12 months that improve the Virgin Island’s health care system.
Like many areas under the US flag, VI government officials have been scrambling to ready the VI for implementation of the new law. This work has included the development of a Health Reform Task Force headed by Lt. Governor Gregory Francis; and the development of a Health Information Technology Task Force under the Department of Health headed by Kai Hendricks.
Both teams involved in this huge undertaking include members from the Health Department, the Department of Human Services, the Division of Banking and Insurance, and interested stakeholders, like AARP.
AARP VI has focused its energies on two specific tasks:
- Monitoring the work government agencies are doing to put the law into practice
- Educating our members on the provisions that will help them
“We want all Virgin Islanders to understand how to make the best health care decisions for themselves and their loved ones,” stated Denyce Singleton, AARP VI Senior State Director.
The ACA now stops health insurance companies from denying coverage to people with pre-existing medical conditions and stops them from canceling coverage if you get sick. It also puts an end to annual and lifetime limits on what an insurer will cover. Furthermore, as a protection for older people, the new law cracks down on age bias by limiting what insurance companies can charge older Virgin Islanders compared to younger people seeking the same health care coverage.
Perhaps one of the best benefits for Virgin Islands seniors involves the free preventive care screenings that Medicare is required to provide to beneficiaries. This means that there is no longer a co-pay for these services which include colonoscopies and mammograms. These services help catch health problems before they become more serious.
The changes involving Medicare Part D are also significant.
In 2010, over 3.8 million people who had drug expenses that placed them in the Medicare coverage gap, also known as the “doughnut hole” received a one-time $250 rebate check. This year (2011) those falling into the doughnut hole will benefit from a 50 percent discount on brand name prescription drugs.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and based on data from just Jan. 1 to Feb. 28 of this year, nearly 48,000 people on Medicare who had already hit the doughnut hole reduced their out-of-pocket costs by $38-million – an average savings of nearly $800 per person.
In addition to the benefits being experienced by seniors, the new law also helps younger Virgin Islanders because it allows young adults to stay on their parents’ health insurance plan until age 26.