By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
MEMBERS of Parliament engaged in a heated argument in the House of Assembly yesterday over whether the Christie administration’s National Health Insurance scheme represents a paradigm shift for healthcare or if it will mirror what is already available under the public healthcare system.
Free National Movement Deputy Leader Peter Turnquest provoked the debate when he said the government is misleading Bahamians about the nature of the changes that will take place when NHI comes on stream.
“The question is, what is different from what is proposed here versus the benefits that Bahamians already enjoy from the Public Hospitals Authority?” he asked. “(The government is) trying to pull a fast one on the Bahamian people. If you accept my proposition that 90 per cent of the benefits included in this programme are already covered in the healthcare system, if you accept that, then if we are going to do what we are doing, shifting resources from the public healthcare system as we know it today and shift it over here to something we call NHI, then nothing has changed, but we give it a new name.”
He suggested that the government was merely transferring funds from the Public Hospitals Authority (PHA) to the National Health Insurance Authority (NHIA) with the aim of providing services already offered under a new name.
“Not only are we playing a shell game and shifting from the PHA to the NHIA, we are going further and saying to the Bahamian people that the healthcare you used to get from the Consolidated Fund, we will now make you pay for it, will make you contribute.”
Prime Minister Perry Christie, Grand Bahama Minister Michael Darville and Health Minister Perry Gomez all interrupted Mr Turnquest’s contribution to criticise his argument.
They insisted that NHI provides for a major upgrade in infrastructure and for a broadening of healthcare services offered to Bahamians.
“As we are aware, a lot of the services that will be implemented with National Health Insurance are not available at this time,” Dr Darville said. “Second, research has indicated that services provided in some of our Family Islands are definitely not on par with services being provided in New Providence or Grand Bahama. What we are proposing through National Health Insurance is to improve the system that is already existing and does not meet the requirement in order for us to ensure we get the outcomes that we need and we can actually prevent serious illness and prevent patients from moving to secondary and even tertiary levels.”
The first phase of the Christie administration’s plan seeks to maximise current investments in healthcare.
The $100 million that will be used to fund primary healthcare will be transferred from the PHA to the NHIA.
This means that the Christie administration will not be increasing its investment in healthcare during this phase, but redirecting it instead.
It’s not clear how this redirection of investment will impact the functioning of the PHA.
A key difference between what is accessed now and what will be accessed when primary healthcare comes on stream, Dr Gomez said, is that Bahamians will not have to make out-of-pocket contributions to pay for primary healthcare services.
The government has not said how much NHI will cost overall, or exactly how it will be funded in the long-term. Last night in the House of Assembly, Mr Christie said these costing issues were still being worked out.