AARP VI has for years, advocated for the rights of Virgin Islands government retirees who receive health insurance coverage through the Government Employees Service Commission (GESC).
Being the entity responsible for negotiating new contracts for health insurance coverage for current and retired government workers AARP VI has kept a watchful eye on the GESC. AARP’s fear was that the GESC would follow the national trend and discontinue retiree health insurance under Cigna. As AARP’s overall mission includes protecting senior’s health and economic security, cutting retirees out the Cigna plan would prove to be very detrimental.
AARP VI therefore welcomed the town hall meeting, on Sept. 20, , where Senator Patrick Simeon Sprauve, the Chairman of the Legislative Health Committee and Mr. John Abramson Jr., Chairman of the Government Employees Service Commission (GESC) shared critical information with the public. AARP VI was very relieved to learn, that while other US municipalities scrambled to maintain their employee health plans, the Virgin Islands Government was able to not only keep its current level of coverage, but drove a hard bargain to bring down premiums for both the employee and employer costs.
“Traditionally, the GESC was criticized for not bringing the plan before the public prior to Legislative consideration and approval,” stated Abramson, “But this year we’ve made many changes and wanted to share the news before the hearing.”
For the first time in over a decade, the premiums for both the government and the employee will be reduced about .05% with absolutely no reduction in services. “This is incredible given the current state of the economy”, exclaimed Abramson who attributed the success to the GESC Board, its Advisors and the Government Health Insurance Office employees. “This is the first time the GESC was able to negotiate with insurance companies without outstanding payments owed to the previous carrier,” continued Abramson. “The clean financial slate gave the GESC the leverage to effectively negotiate on important issues and made all the difference in the world.”
One change to be noted is the change in emphasis from simply having an insurance carrier that pays claims, to having a carrier that places a great deal of attention on preventive services and wellness activities. As part of the new contract Cigna donated $200,000 toward a Wellness Program. This program’s goal is to help beneficiaries identify their health challenges and give them the knowledge and tools to work preventatively to avoid illnesses, injuries and avoid the development of chronic conditions. Cigna has hired a counselor to work with beneficiaries in each district.
“Our health care programs have always been reactive to diseases,” stated Abramson, “Our hope is that through this new program we can avoid the more costly problems that come without making behavior and lifestyle changes. These include things like wearing seatbelts, drinking more water, cessation of smoking, exercising, managing diabetes and cholesterol, etc. By drawing attention to some of these basic things that everyone can do for themselves, we can have an impact on the individual’s immediate health as well as their costs to keep well.”
Access to the Wellness program begins with an online survey that provides baseline data for each employee. The data is used by the Cigna Wellness Program counselor to tailor an optimum wellness health program that corresponds to the lifestyle needs of that individual. All employees are urged to take advantage of this free program through enrollment on the website.
AARP VI urges all beneficiaries to take advantage of this preventative program.