By NICO SCAVELLA
Tribune Staff Reporter
PLP Chairman Bradley Roberts said the Bahamas Insurance Association’s authority as a stakeholder in the National Health Insurance debate is discredited due to the industry’s high premium rates.
Mr Roberts blamed the “insurance cartel” for the “large numbers” of Bahamians currently “begging, borrowing, and hosting cookouts” because they cannot afford health insurance.
Mr Roberts suggested that the BIA is in no position to advise the government on how it should administer its proposed NHI scheme while its own premium costs are “spiralling out of control”. He said if the BIA is convinced that it can deliver “superior administration of National Health Insurance at a lower cost,” then it should demonstrate it by first lowering the cost of insurance and “making the same more affordable and therefore accessible to a larger percentage of the population”.
In a statement released on Monday night, Mr Roberts further said that it would be “nonsensical” to simply cede major control of the country’s healthcare services to an “insurance cartel that will probably not alter its current practices, but simply continue its usual modus operandi as it did before, only this time with mandated tribute from a captive population and premiums paid directly to them by the government on behalf of tens of thousands of Bahamians.”
He also said it is “nonsensical” of the BIA to propose to create a “private cartel through the elimination of a public option”.
Mr Roberts’ statement is the latest in a saga of strained relations between the government and insurance stakeholders over the administration of NHI. The insurance industry is hoping that the government will abandon its plans to establish a public insurer and instead work towards offering affordable premiums to citizens along with its proposed vital benefits plan.
To accomplish this, the BIA has recently proposed the removal of value added tax (VAT) from all medical services and medical insurance, and the reduction of premium taxes in order to make healthcare more affordable.
The BIA also called for the establishment of a legislated body made up of the industry, the government and civil society to set rates for the plan.
Yesterday, however, Mr Roberts dismissed the BIA’s proposal as “the same old discredited and tired argument advanced more than 40 years ago with the implementation of National Insurance”.
“If the BIA is convinced that it can deliver superior administration of NHI at a lower cost, then why is the BIA proposing to create a private cartel through the elimination of a public option?” Mr Roberts said. “That is nonsensical. The insurance cartel could just demonstrate it by reducing the cost of insurance coverage and making the same more affordable and therefore accessible to a larger percentage of the population.
“What we have seen instead are premiums spiralling out of control and large numbers of Bahamians begging, borrowing and hosting cookouts in part because they cannot afford health insurance. This is not the way forward for a free, modern democratic Bahamas.”
On Sunday, an insurance industry insider told The Tribune that stakeholders are discussing contingency plans in case the Christie administration fails to incorporate some of the BIA’s proposals into its NHI scheme.
Then on Monday, a high-level stakeholder in the industry warned that the jobs of as many as 1,000 people will be in jeopardy if the government moves ahead with its NHI scheme without incorporating the BIA’s recommendations.
Yesterday, however, Mr Roberts remained steadfast to his previous suggestions that the BIA wants “unfettered powers to raise premiums to ensure profits”.
NHI will be phased in over a five-year period, officials have said. The government has allocated $60m for the first phase of NHI.
According to Sanigest Internacional, the government’s Costa Rican consultants on NHI, the scheme could cost up to $633m if implemented as a comprehensive package. On the low end, NHI could cost around $362m.
However, the government has yet to reveal how much NHI will cost and how it plans to pay for the proposed scheme.