By RICARDO WELLS
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE draft legislation for the government’s proposed National Health Insurance scheme has been released, but officials yesterday were still uncertain on how the scheme would be funded once implemented.
A major change in the draft legislation is that signing on to NHI will no longer be mandatory. Eligible people would be able to decide whether they want to be a part of the scheme once it is fully implemented.
Additionally, the bill, if enacted would establish the NHI Authority – a body with the freedom to manage its own accounts, borrow money on its own behalf to fund its operation and the power to invest freely whatever funds falls under its purview.
During a press conference at the NHI Secretariat on East Street, NHI Permanent Secretary Peter Deveaux-Isaacs; NHI Project Manager Dr Delon Brennen and legal consultant Damara Dillet presented the 43-page document - marking the Christie administration’s most significant step in its implementation of universal health coverage.
The draft bill seeks to, in part, repeal the NHI Act of 2007, implement the government’s long promised scheme through legal framework and set up a NHI fund.
According to Mr Deveaux-Isaacs, the scheme is a crucial part of the government’s plan to make the Bahamas the healthiest nation in the Caribbean by 2030.
“What we are asking of stakeholders is to provide the Secretariat with tangible and constructive feedback on how this draft can be strengthened or clarified so we can work together to develop the final version that is presented to Parliament,” he said.
“The NHI Secretariat remains open to any and all stakeholders for their input and for their concerns to be expressed and comments,” he added.
To date, the government has not given any clear details about how the scheme will be funded once implemented.
Mr Christie said late last year that the government would not consider a tax to fund the new scheme until after the next fiscal year.
Yesterday, Dr Brennen said he was still unaware of where funding would come from for NHI.
“A policy decision on whether there will be contribution and or when there will be contributions has not been made by the political directorate so we don’t have any timelines on that,” he said.
Earlier this month, the NHI Secretariat held town meetings in Grand Bahama and New Providence.
The series of community forums are expected to be ramped up in the coming weeks, with officials set to expand public discussion on NHI to a number of Family Island communities.
Dr Brennen said it was important for NHI officials to get into as many communities as possible to explain the finer details of the plan.
“As a medical doctor in paediatric emergency medicine, on a daily basis, I see the struggles everyday Bahamians go through to get care for themselves and their families,” he said.
“I see pregnant women unable to afford an ultrasound. I see men avoiding going to the doctor and their heart and blood pressure checked for fear that it will cost them their month’s salary - National Health Insurance Bahamas will change all of this.”
NHI’s primary healthcare phase was scheduled to be introduced in April.
However, earlier this week, Minister of Health Dr Perry Gomez said NHI would “likely” be delayed.