On Tuesday night last week, Virgin Islands resident Teddy Nankisore had a serious problem.
His 6-year-old daughter had a stomach infection and was vomiting, but Mr. Nankisore and his family were in Orlando, far away from their usual health care providers.
And when Mr. Nankisore called the emergency after-hours numbers on the back of his VI National Health Insurance card, no one answered.
“We didn’t wait for NHI to respond to us. I called 911 and we went to the hospital,” Mr. Nankisore said. “It was the first time we’ve had this medical emergency on the mainland. Service in the BVI has been pretty good, but we were shocked that the numbers weren’t working.”
New NHI cards
Mr. Nankisore’s calls weren’t going through in part because all NHI cards still feature two outdated phone numbers.
In December 2017, the Florida-based JIPA Network sued the Social Security Board for breach of contract, and seemed to suggest in a sparse initial complaint that the SSB paid overseas medical providers without paying JIPA a fee each time they were utilised.
Though the relationship between JIPA and the SSB ended last year, phone numbers for the JIPA Network are listed on NHI cards.
Mr. Nankisore posted about this discrepancy on Facebook — which quickly led to a series of press releases from the SSB announcing the printing of new cards.
“[We were] told by JIPA that NHI of the VI [has not used] their services for approximately one year now and that NHI promised to reprint new cards without their information, but people have still been calling them,” he wrote. “Was the public informed on this change?”
The SSB reported two days later that “although a press release was issued” about the end of the JIPA partnership, “some persons are still not aware” of that change.
Last June, the SSB made an agreement with United States-based UnitedHealthcare, a different network of medical providers.
The agreement provides NHI users with access to some 595,000 physicians and other health care providers, 80,000 dentists and 4,965 hospitals around the world, according to the SSB.
The printing of new NHI cards — which will show UnitedHealthcare’s logo and contact information — is scheduled to begin by May 15, the press release last week added.
NHI also promised that existing cards are still effective, and that the local phone numbers listed on the back are still operational around the clock.
Information officer April Glasgow said NHI has not had problems with those numbers before the recent incident, and added that the agency doesn’t “ignore calls.”
The SSB has been unable to print updated cards since its fallout with JIPA because of a lack of necessary equipment, she said, adding that NHI has over 36,000 beneficiaries. “Printing that many cards is a lot on equipment,” she said. “It’s been a matter of sourcing the right tools.”
Mr. Nankisore said he was glad that NHI representatives reached out to him after he posted about his problem on Facebook, and that they issued new press releases.
“They responded to us, which was very nice,” he said. “I must say that I’m impressed they followed up on it.”
The father of two said he also hopes others won’t have to grapple with medical emergencies in the future in the same way he did.
“I hope everybody gets the new card before an emergency situation happens,” he said.