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Governor's HCR Task Force Leadership Meets with Executive Council

As states across the nation scramble to prepare themselves to implement the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the Virgin Islands is in the enviable position to have gotten an early start as a result of work the government was already doing to upgrade its decade’s old state plan for its Medicaid program.

During an AARP Executive Council meeting, three members of the Governor’s Health Care implementation Task Force representatives, Barbara Lee Jackson, John McDonald and Dwayne Henry, Esq., provided an update on the Governor’s expectations, the Task Force’s broad marching orders, other appointees also named to the Task Force, and their individual roles and duties. Barbara Lee Jackson, the newly appointed Task Force Coordinator, will work directly with the other 14 government agency members of the team to ensure that all requirements and deadlines are met.

The Task Force’s first official meeting provided a forum for the group to discuss where the Virgin Islands are, what needs to be done, when it must be accomplished and what variables need to be researched.

“The three key areas which are being explored include, 1) What legal authority does the VI have to implement the new law; 2) What insurance regulations need to be updated, and 3) What financial capabilities does the Virgin Islands have to support the law’s implementation,” stated John McDonald, Director of the Office of the Lieutenant Governor’s Division of Banking and Insurance.

“While the legal issues are not some of our foremost challenges,” stated Dwayne Henry, General Counsel for the Office of the Lieutenant Governor, “by creating local laws that mirror the federal health care law, we allow much of the enforcement issues to be monitored and enforced locally, which greatly improves how responsive we can be during the implementation and subsequent phases of rolling out the health care law over the next nine years.”

Being a territory and not a state, the Task Force has concerns about which areas include the Virgin Islands and which do not. However, because the VI has been so proactive over the past several years as we worked to upgrade our Medicaid State Plan, we are significantly ahead of the game. Fortunately, there are many areas in the new law that actually are extensions of the existing federal public health laws. Because these items definitely include the Virgin Islands, we are able to move forward without any legal impediments.

“Four of these key areas in the new law which are part of the original federal health care law will be implemented in the VI as of September 23, 2010”, continued Henry, “These include: 1) HHS 2704 - the prohibition from excluding people from health insurance who have pre-existing conditions; 2) HHS 2711 – which prohibits lifetime limits for coverage; 3) HHS 2712 – which prohibits the rescission or revoking of coverage; and HHS 2719 – which addresses patient rights to select primary care physicians which could include Obstetrics and Gynecologists for women, for instance.”

While pleased with the level of transparency and openness that the Task Force members displayed, it was clear to the AARP Executive Council members that the VI government has a tremendous amount of work ahead of it and that many analyses must be completed before the group is ready to proactively supply the public with a full picture of the Virgin Islands’ plan for implementing the new health care reform law. Please watch this website as we provide further updates on how the law will unfold here in the VI.

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