By KHRISNA VIRGIL
Tribune Staff reporter
FREE National Movement Leader Dr Hubert Minnis yesterday castigated the Christie administration over the “chaotic manner” in which it has sought to implement National Health Insurance as he urged the government to delay the launch of the healthcare scheme to properly engage stakeholders.
Dr Minnis also criticised Prime Minister Perry Christie, saying he has yet to reveal what benefits package will come with NHI’s roll out or give taxpayers an accurate estimate of what it will cost to implement the plan.
Meanwhile the Bahamas Insurance Association (BIA) released a statement yesterday that said the proposed NHI model constitutes “a hostile takeover” of the private health insurance sector by government.
The association predicted that NHI would destabilise the health insurance sector, which they expect to have a snowballing effect on the entire insurance industry.
The BIA cautioned the government to exercise prudence in its management of the country’s affairs and to implement universal health coverage in The Bahamas in a responsible rather than reckless manner.
This comes the day after Acting Prime Minister Philip “Brave” Davis said while the government is concerned about possible job losses due to the implementation of NHI, the scheme is designed to absorb any possible fallout in the private insurance sector.
He was responding to assertions by a high-level stakeholder in the health insurance industry who told The Tribune this week that as many as 1,000 people will lose their jobs if the government proceeds with NHI without incorporating the BIA’s recommendations.
Despite this, Mr Davis said there have been no discussions to delay rolling-out NHI as criticism continues that the public healthcare system will not be ready to meet the government’s self imposed implementation date of January 1, 2016.
“The Free National Movement strongly supports affordable healthcare for all Bahamians and finds long-term illnesses and deaths as a result of inadequate available funds tragic,” Dr Minnis said in a press statement.
“However, we cannot support the chaotic manner in which the Christie administration is set to implement the proposed National Health Insurance scheme. Because of the lack of proper assessments and evaluations, not surprisingly, the government is unable to say what the roll out of NHI will cost the people of the Bahamas.
“With only one month before implementation, Prime Minister Christie has yet to specify what comes with the NHI scheme. Christie is a man in dreamland with no specific details and is refusing to be guided by any sensible or sound advice to delay the launch of NHI – asleep at the wheel again. It is reported that insurance industry stakeholders believe that the implementation of the scheme will immediately force an estimated 1,000 Bahamians to lose their private sector jobs. Christie’s failing government defiantly asserts that NHI will absorb the job fallout.”
He continued: “Knowing Christie’s empty promise legacy, there is no guarantee these Bahamian professionals will secure jobs and no doubt if they are hired by way of NHI, it is likely they will see a significant reduction in pay.
“Unfortunately for our nation, Prime Minister Christie will not wake up anytime soon, but when he does, he will find that he has failed the Bahamian people miserably. As if the loss of 2,000 jobs at Baha Mar was not bad enough and the VAT burden being carried by Bahamians, Christie is again acting void of all the facts and seemingly with no regard for the critical consequences of his reckless actions.”
Dr Minnis said the Bahamian people can rest assured that an FNM government would be committed to the provision of affordable healthcare for all in a process that is meticulous, prudent, and transparent. He said the Bahamian people have every right to know what they are getting before their tax dollars are spent.
Yesterday, the BIA said the proposed NHI model represents the nationalisation of private assets using the instruments of the state without duly compensating shareholders.
According to the association, the government has no interest in engaging in any consultation – other than paying lip service to the idea – as it relates to NHI implementation.
“The structure of the insurance industry in the Bahamas makes it difficult to accurately predict the full potential impact of the proposed NHI model on employment within the health insurance sector,” the statement read.
“Long-term insurers are often licensed to sell both life and health insurance products; hence the destabilisation of the health insurance sector is expected to have a snowballing effect on the life insurance sector in particular and the entire insurance industry in general.
“When the likely impact on insurance brokers, agents and salespersons is factored in, significant job losses can be expected.
“The losses that the government can expect will be significant not only because of the loss of jobs but because of the loss of revenue from diminished premium taxes and NIB contributions – from both the employer and the employee – as well as loss of revenue from VAT on medical premiums.”
The BIA said the private sector would like to caution the government that the projected job losses pale in comparison to the potential impact of the nationalisation of the private health insurance sector on the overall Bahamian insurance industry, relationships with global partners and the country’s reputation within the global financial services sector.
It also went on to criticise the government for failing to address recent comments by Etoile Pinder, an employee of government consultants Sanigest Internacional, who described opponents of the current NHI model as “morons” and “money-grubbing asses” on her Facebook page.
“The cost of NHI is still unknown,” the BIA statement added. “PricewaterhouseCoopers had indicated in its report to the government that it was unable to validate the estimates and assumptions put forward by Sanigest. They also suggested that the costs might have been significantly underestimated by Sanigest.
“This follows the opinion of a global consultancy firm Marsh & McLennan that the NHI report provided by Sanigest is actuarially invalid, strategically flawed and the timelines are unrealistic.”
The BIA said the private sector is still hopeful that the prime minister will see the logic and wisdom of addressing the flaws within the proposed NHI model before it is too late.