Affordable Health Care on Horizon for Small Businesses in Virgin Islands


Omar Haedo and his family smile for the camera.

Twenty years ago Omar Haedo brought affordable health care to the Virgin Islands.

The Puerto Rican businessman was instrumental in getting government health care coverage and establishing a network of healthcare and dental providers.

With no competition, however, CIGNA rates and premiums, as well as those of many other local insurance providers, have ballooned to proportions which are not realistic to many small businesses.

Haedo left the insurance field to build his own business, IKON Benefit Group, which provided solutions in insurance, administration, human resources, business consulting and job placement.

Now, Haedo is back in the insurance world. He returned to the territory last week as a representative of BlueCross and BlueShield, determined to offer affordable health care to local small businesses.

“I am the guy who  brought CIGNA to the islands 20 years ago,” said Haedo. “I actually signed the contract with the government on May 2, 1992. I built up CIGNA here and then I built my own company.”

“I’m selling my company now and I went to BlueCross and BlueShield and said ‘The folks in the Virgin Islands need affordable health care,’” said Haedo.

Instead of approaching the government this time around, however, Haedo is offering his services to private enterprises.

“We can do this right,” he said. “I told them, ‘I’m not going to government; there are 125,000 small business employees who don’t have a good choice and are facing very high rates.’”

BlueCross and BlueShield of the U.S. Virgin Islands is specifically adapted to the territory, Haedo explained.

“My primary focus is on small businesses with 50 employees or less,” he said. “I am working with local pharmacies which will fill prescriptions. That way it’s more convenient and supports the local economy by not doing mail order.”

Although the focus remains on local needs, residents who travel would be covered under the world-wide BlueCross and BlueShield providers, Haedo added.

“It is a part of VI Equi Care which is the biggest network of all here, but the network is huge too,” he said. “So no matter where you are, you’re covered in the world-wide network of BlueCross and BlueShield.”

The company also offers discounts of about 15 percent off competitors’ rates, Haedo added.

“I am lowering my manuals by a lot and I’m giving employers an average discount of between 10 and 15 percent and that includes more benefits than the competitors,” he said.

There are 60 different plans with a variety of options and premiums, Haedo added.

“We offer multiple-design plan options with medical, pharmacy, vision and dental benefits coverage in one package,” he said.

All plans include health, dental and vision as well as MASA coverage, according to Haedo.

“We’re not encouraging people to go to Puerto Rico, but if you do, we hired someone full-time to take care of Virgin Islanders who might need help with translation or transportation,” he said. “When and if you have to go to Puerto Rico for care, we want to make it a really good experience.”

BlueCross and BlueShield USVI also hired a medical liaison in Miami in the event that clients have to travel to Florida for care, Haedo added.

And don’t expect to see glossy advertisements for BlueCross and BlueShield USVI.

“We’re not doing any advertising,” said Haedo. “We want all of our efforts and money to go to our network and our clients. It’s really about making this right for the locals.”

The coverage is available to any small businesses with two or more employees, according to Haedo.
“We’re looking for volume,” he said. “We’re doing it all.”

Haedo is also seeing interest in BlueCross and BlueShield USVI, he explained.

“We are seeing a significant wave of interest in the market,” he said. “What is going to happen is our competitors are going to have to sharpen their pencils and change some things. That is only good for the community.”

Haedo already has a personal stake in bringing BlueCross and BlueShield to the territory, he added.

“I am trying to right my sins of the past, bringing CIGNA here,” said Haedo. “But without competition, you become very complacent. There are a lot of people and a lot of kids who do not have insurance.”

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