By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Chief Reporter
FREE National Movement Leader Dr Hubert Minnis yesterday renewed calls for greater transparency in the government’s proposed roll-out of National Health Insurance.
Dr Minnis expressed scepticism over the government’s ability to fund the new healthcare scheme given the country’s fiscal challenges, and insisted that the focus should instead be diverted to public consultation with the private sector and the strengthening of the existing healthcare system.
Dr Minnis, the former minister of health, warned Bahamians not to be fooled by a premature registration drive that would not be followed by any significant NHI implementation.
“How is this going to be paid for?” he asked.
“The government said there would be no extra taxes but the consultant Sanigest stated that monies presently in the healthcare system can be utilised, but if you do that, what happens to the existing healthcare system? It will subsequently collapse.
“There are so many inconsistencies. Then we’ve just been struck with a hurricane in the south, there is a cost there. Over 2,000 people were laid off at Baha Mar, there is a cost there. Then what is the effect on the private sector? The government has not entered gainful, meaningful discussion with the private sector. This can result in massive layoffs if not done properly because the private sector if they are selling or dealing with NHI, invariably their comprehensive packages will decrease.
“Layoffs in the private sector are middle income jobs,” Dr Minnis said, “which means that you will have home foreclosures, schools affected, and the middle class would subsequently shrink – poverty would increase.”
“There are too many inconsistencies,” Dr Minnis added. “The PLP administration needs to be honest with the Bahamian people, that’s first and foremost.”
When asked whether or not he felt the initiative ought to be postponed, Dr Minnis said: “I think they need to continue along the path that we (the former administration) were engaging in a phase wise manner and concentrate now on strengthening the system, correcting the problems, the infrastructural needs, the health integration needs, the supplies, the equipment, all this needs to be done.”
The government allocated $60 million for NHI in the 2014/2015 fiscal year, and has said the initiative will be phased in over a five-year period.
Public Hospitals Authority Managing Director Herbert Brown, earlier this year, said that a substantial amount of the $60m allocation would be spent on infrastructure upgrades and improvements in the public health sector.
In September, Minister of Health Dr Perry Gomez confirmed that NHI was still on schedule for a January 2016 roll out of the first phase – registration.
Yesterday, Dr Minnis called for the government to release a report conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers report on NHI costs.
He pointed to the inconsistencies between estimates calculated by Sanigest, the government’s consultant, and the Bahamas Insurance Association (BIA).
Sanigest has reportedly presented the government with schemes that range in cost from $300 to $600 million annually, while the BIA pegged annual costs at nearly $1 billion.
“This government has been stepping from one blunder to another, they can’t manage, would you trust them with this? They don’t like consultation, and when they consult they don’t listen, that’s been demonstrated with the (gaming) referendum,” Dr Minnis said. “What they need really now is a roadmap moving forward, a roadmap would show us a timeline in terms of health care system strengthening, integration, electronic medical records, what basically this country needs now is a rebooting of the entire government system.
“In rebooting this whole system of governance, let’s reboot and boot this government out. I ask the people don’t be fooled, don’t allow this government to fool you again like they did during the last election, to commence a registration drive only with nothing behind it. They would commence that and make it appear as if NHI is on its way, we would not be fooled.”