By NATARIO McKENZIE
Tribune Business Reporter
THE Bahamas Insurance Association (BIA) said yesterday that it was “unacceptable, inappropriate and disrespectful” for the government’s National Health Insurance (NHI) consultant Sanigest to publicly scold the industry over its concerns, saying that such attacks would make meaningful dialogue on the issue difficult to achieve.
In a statement released yesterday the association called on Ministry of Health to state its position on the comments by Sanigest and urged Prime Minister Perry Christie to bring order and structure to the debate over national health insurance.
Earlier this month, James Cercone, president of Sanigest Internacional, said it was “absolutely absurd” for Bahamian private health insurers to fear that the proposed NHI scheme would result in the ‘complete nationalisation’ of their industry. He told Tribune Business the scheme would actually create “a more competitive and dynamic” health insurance market than presently exists.
He explained that Sanigest had pushed the government to approve a ‘multi-payer’ model for NHI, where the existing private health insurers will compete alongside a yet-to-be created public insurer, all offering the same plans and benefits. He also described as “non-existent” fears that the scheme’s implementation will negatively impact the Bahamian economy, arguing that the current system was “more damaging”. Further, Mr Cercone said that the BIA was accused of “comparing apples with oranges” over its estimates of NHI total costs, suggesting it was resistant to “dramatic but necessary change”.
The BIA in its statement yesterday said: “By responding to Sanigest’s recent public comments, the Bahamas Insurance Association does not want to unjustifiably attribute their statements to the government. However, we note that Sanigest was engaged by the Ministry of Health, and there has been no effort to distance the government from the company’s provocative and divisive comments. The BIA calls on the Ministry of Health to clearly state its position on the comments of its consultants. Specifically, do Sanigest comments represent the views of the Minister of Health and his Permanent Secretary? Is Sanigest authorised to speak for the Minister of Health? Or is this a case of a rogue consultant acting independently without clearance from its employers?”
It added: “We note that it is highly unorthodox for a third-party consultant to engage stakeholders in the manner in which Sanigest has done in recent times. In fact, it is unacceptable, inappropriate and disrespectful for a foreign consultant to publicly scold the Bahamian insurance industry and the many hardworking professionals employed by that industry.”
It went on to note that all correspondence from the BIA on NHI has been addressed to the government through the appropriate officials, agencies and committees. “It follows therefore that any response should emanate from those sources. The BIA has expressed its support for universal healthcare and is committed to engaging in meaningful discussions with the government to achieve that goal. As the government’s technical adviser, Sanigest may be able to play a meaningful role in our journey towards universal health coverage. But their recent role of attacking the health insurance industry makes it far more difficult to achieve the meaningful consultation that the Prime Minister envisages.”
The BIA noted that, at present, it remains unclear who is responsible for what in the implementation of NHI. “Specifically, who is ultimately responsible for the universal health care system? What are the roles of the Minister of Health, the Minister of National Insurance and Labour, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health, the Chief Medical Officer and his deputy, the National Insurance Board, the so-called NHI Elite Team, the Canadian consultants engaged by the government and Sanigest International? When will the chief executive officer referenced by the Prime Minister be appointed to oversee the implementation of National Health Insurance? When will the new governance structure which promises meaningful consultation and includes private sector stakeholders be established? The BIA and the Bahamian public deserve answers to these important questions.”