By NICO SCAVELLA
Tribune Staff Reporter
FNM Leader Dr Hubert Minnis yesterday criticised recent comments by a representative of the government’s main National Health Insurance adviser directed at the Bahamas’ healthcare industry, charging that her “dictatorial” statements were grounds for the agency’s “immediate dismissal”.
Dr Minnis said statements made by Bahamian Etoile Pinder, executive for Sanigest Internacional, the government’s Costa Rican consultants on NHI, suggested that Sanigest was imposing an “our way or no way” approach to the debate between it and NHI’s various stakeholders – the Bahamian populace included – on how NHI should be constructed.
Dr Minnis said at no point should any member of NHI’s advisory board “insult my professionals nor insult my population.”
Dr Minnis also called on the government to “tell the truth and come clean” on the details surrounding its proposed NHI scheme. He also accused the government of being “disingenuous and playing politics” with NHI, and said come January 1, the government will likely find “another excuse to delay (NHI), whether they use the hurricane or some other issue”.
Earlier this week, Tribune Business reported that the Bahamas’ healthcare industry reacted with fury after Ms Pinder branded opponents to NHI as “morons and money-grubbing asses.”
Ms Pinder’s comments, posted on her own Facebook page, read: “I give up. My country prefers morons and money-grubbing asses to intelligent, evidence-based decision-making. Peace out. I’m off to help countries that actually value my contributions. Good luck y’all.”
Although Ms Pinder’s remarks were not directed at any individuals or companies, they likely referred to the private sector opponents of the government’s NHI model that include the Medical Association of the Bahamas (MAB), the Bahamas Insurance Association (BIA), and the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers Confederation (BCCEC).
“For a NHI staff member or anyone involved in putting the programme together to make such a statement, what they’re saying it’s either our way or no way, and they’re basically telling, not only the medical professionals, but they’re telling the Bahamian public who are asking questions and wanting it to be done properly, they’re telling the Bahamian public that we’re a bunch of (money-grubbing asses),” Dr Minnis said yesterday.
“And in a situation like that, no member who’s putting a programme together like that, can insult my professionals, nor insult my population. (If) someone did that under my employment, they would be dismissed. You don’t insult my population, nor do you insult my professional grouping.”
Dr Minnis added: “And in today’s world where we ask for transparency, honesty and integrity, there’s such a thing as communication. I have a right to ask questions, I have a right to object. But when you’re labelling me in some derogatory manner because I don’t agree with your opinion, that is dictatorial and grounds for immediate dismissal as well.”
And, with a little over a month before the scheme’s proposed implementation date of January 1, Dr Minnis also called on the Christie administration to be frank regarding the details surrounding NHI, specifically how much the scheme would cost and how the government plans to fund the scheme in its entirety.
“The government is being very irresponsible when they cannot yet tell us the cost for NHI,” Dr Minnis said. “That is totally irresponsible. So I think the government is being very disingenuous and playing politics with the Bahamian people. They must come clean, inform us of the truth, let us know the cost, how are they going to pay for it, and what would they deliver.”
When questioned on what he realistically expects to happen come January 1, Dr Minnis said: “Nothing”.
“(Prime Minister Perry) Christie and them will find another excuse to delay it, whether they use a hurricane or some other issue,” he added. “But they will find an excuse. They’re not prepared and they’re playing politics with the Bahamian people’s health and the Bahamian people’s emotions.”
Officials have said NHI will be phased in over a five-year period. The government has allocated $60m for the first phase of NHI.
According to Sanigest, the scheme could cost up to $633m annually if implemented as a comprehensive package. On the low end, NHI could cost around $362m.
Regarding that first phase, Mr Christie recently said that the government’s main goal ahead of the proposed implementation date is ensuring that the country’s medical infrastructure can deliver the quality service “that fits the amount charged”.
He previously said, despite public fears, his administration would not institute any form of taxation for NHI prior to July 2016, which is the start of the new fiscal cycle. He stressed that none of the time lines associated with NHI have changed.
However, a report by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) has stated that the Bahamian healthcare system is “not ready” for NHI, and will face a major challenge in coping with “an initial surge in demand for services”.
This, PwC warned, was likely to “compound” the Bahamas’ challenge in controlling healthcare cost growth. It added that the demand-driven rise in healthcare costs will impose “significant pressure” on the Christie administration to either increase taxes, or re-allocate spending away from other high priority public services to finance NHI.
That report was not released by the government. However, it was made public through the media.