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UNITED STATES VIRGIN ISLANDS
DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH

_________________________________________________________
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

March 23, 2011

Virgin Islands Receives Federal Grant to Explore Health Insurance Exchange Option 

Governor John P. de Jongh, Jr. said today that the Virgin Islands has been awarded a $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to explore the option of establishing an American Health Benefit Exchange in the Virgin Islands.

De Jongh said he views the grant as an acknowledgement by HHS of the pressing health care needs faced by the Virgin Islands, and as a step forward in the territory’s efforts to achieve parity with U.S. States in health care policy. “The territory will devote these grant funds to examining whether a health insurance exchange is the best tool for providing health insurance coverage to uninsured Virgin Islanders, and for helping small businesses sponsor health insurance for their employees,” he said.

Under the Affordable Care Act, a federal health reform law enacted in 2010, territories may choose to establish an exchange. The exchange is a marketplace for insurance companies to offer “qualified health plans” including a set of benefits determined by the federal government. Territories and states establishing an exchange must provide assistance with premiums and other cost-sharing (such as co-payments and deductibles) to low-income individuals. The federal law also includes a “Small Business Health Options Program,” under which small businesses can sponsor coverage for their employees on the exchange. If the territory elects an exchange, the exchange would begin operating in January 2014.

The governor emphasized that the grant does not obligate the Virgin Islands to establish an exchange. Instead, he said, the territory intends to use the $1 million grant to decide whether implementing an exchange is a sound policy decision. The HHS grant covers the year between March 22, 2011 and March 21, 2012. “During the initial months of the grant, the territory will undertake an analysis of whether an exchange is feasible from budgetary and health care policy perspectives, and if so, whether the Virgin Islands should pursue its own exchange or a ‘regional’ exchange in partnership with U.S. states or other territories. 

If the territory decides to move forward with the exchange, it will work during the remainder of the grant year on recommending legislative and agency agendas to establish the exchange, collecting stakeholders’ input on relevant policy decisions, and designing the benefits package and subsidy eligibility criteria for the exchange.

The Healthcare Reform Implementation Task Force, established by the governor in June 2010 and directed by Lieutenant Governor Francis, will be central to work under the grant. “The task force will proceed immediately under the grant with examining whether an exchange is feasible, and if so, how the exchange can be optimally designed to achieve affordable health coverage for the territory’s uninsured residents,” the lieutenant governor said today.

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