By KHRISNA VIRGIL
Tribune Staff Reporter
PRIME Minister Perry Christie yesterday insisted that his administration is not “stupid” in its handling of the economy as he announced the government’s decision not to impose additional taxes on Bahamians “at this time” to fund the roll-out of National Health Insurance (NHI).
According to State Finance Minister Michael Halkitis, the first phase of the healthcare scheme is projected to cost the government $60m, which he said is reflected in the 2015/2016 Budget allocation for the Public Hospitals Authority.
Mr Halkitis added that the government is able to afford the hefty price tag on NHI through general revenue collections.
NHI is still on target to begin in January 2016 and will be phased in over a five-year period, Mr Christie revealed in the House of Assembly.
“The government will not impose additional taxation or contributions to fund national health insurance at this time,” he said during his annual budget communication.
“But rather the introduction of services will be done in parallel with our ability to pay for those services. Simply stated, this means that the continued growth of our economy is not only critical to the overall success of The Bahamas but also to our ability to fund universal healthcare in the future.
“Indeed, better access to healthcare will further support our ability to grow the economy by ensuring higher productivity and efficiency.”
The Free National Movement has continuously urged the government not to move forward with an additional tax on Bahamians to fund NHI, considering that value added tax was implemented in January at a rate of 7.5 per cent.
Yesterday, Mr Christie appealed to people who are covered by insurance policies to consider those who are without.
He said: “I don’t understand, Mr Speaker, why some people think we (are) stupid. On the one hand we are doing this extraordinary job of bringing the economy back (and) on the next hand they expect us to do something to plunge it back (into a recession). Why do they think we are like that?
“Mr Speaker, this is something we will tell our children about, especially if we get it right. As each of us sit fully protected by the insurances that we have, I only ask, Mr Speaker, for those of us to reach out in their minds and see the thousands who are without. There will be no surrender there will be no retreat.”
As the government prepares for NHI implementation, Mr Christie said there will be an intensified focus on strengthening the country’s existing health system. Therefore, the upcoming budget cycle will allocate for expenditure that targets improved quality and efficiency in the administration and delivery of existing health care services, he said.
Mr Christie expressed optimism that existing health insurers will collaborate with the government as it moves toward universal health care.
In addition a task force has been established to direct and lead the implementation of NHI. It provides for an advisory body that will include representation of private sector interests and civil society stakeholders amongst others, Mr Christie said.