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Health Reform and the US Virgin Islands: High-NeedLimited Impact

Blewett, Lynn A. PhD; Call, Kathleen Thiede PhD; Marmor, Schelomo MPH

Journal of Public Health Management & Practice: September/October 2013 - Volume 19 - Issue 5 - p 393–401
doi: 10.1097/PHH.0b013e31826d8020
Original Articles

Objectives: There are 4.1 million residents living in the US territories, which is more than the combined population of many US states, yet the territories and their citizens are often overlooked from a policy perspective, because most individual territories are relatively small, geographically isolated, and have been treated differently than the states historically. This tendency to fall beneath the radar is clear in the realm of health policy, especially in the area of insurance coverage. This article provides an initial assessment of the potential impact of health reform on the US Virgin Islands (USVI) and, in light of this assessment, considers how the results of a USVI household survey conducted in 2003 and 2009 might be used as a baseline for future monitoring of the impact of national reform.

Methods: A study by the Virgin Island's Bureau of Economic Research, Office of the Governor, and the University of Minnesota, was conducted in 2003 and 2009. The Virgin Islands Health Insurance telephone Surveys were random digit dial landline telephone surveys of households in the USVI. A stratified sample was drawn to produce precise estimates of insurance coverage for the USVI as a whole and for the 3 islands separately.

Results: Almost one-third of the residents (28.7%) in the Virgin Islands were uninsured in 2009. This rate is twice the US average (15.4%) and significantly higher than the uninsured rate of 24.1% when a similar survey was last conducted the Virgin Islands in 2003.

Conclusions: The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 provides special funding to the territories through a mix of increased Medicaid caps for each territory and the provision of premium subsidies through newly established health insurance exchanges to low-income populations. However, the Affordable Care Act's Medicaid expansions to newly eligible adults—primarily adults without children—are limited to current eligibility levels in the territories, which is $5,500 in annual income for adult coverage in the USVI. Within these abbreviated parameters, the Medicaid expansion can go so far only toward mitigating uninsurance among the lowest income groups in the territories. With certain low-income childless adults overlooked, the Affordable Care Act does not fully address the high need for affordable health insurance coverage in the territories.

This article discusses an initial assessment of the potential impact of health reform on the US Virgin Islands and, in light of this assessment, considers how the results of US Virgin Islands household survey conducted in 2003 and 2009 can be used as a baseline for future monitoring of the impact of national reform.

State Health Access Data Assistance Center (Drs Blewett and Call), Division of Health Policy and Management (Drs Blewett and Call and Mr Marmor), School of Public Health, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.

Correspondence: Lynn A. Blewett, PhD, State Health Access Data Assistance Center (SHADAC), University of Minnesota, 2221 University Ave, Ste 345, Minneapolis, MN 55414 (blewe001@umn.edu).

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.

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© 2013 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.