Dr Duane Sands, Minister of Health. Photo: Shawn Hanna/Tribune staff
By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Deputy Chief Reporter
PUBLIC Hospitals Authority officials have decided to delay for 60 days several across the board fee increases at the Princess Margaret Hospital, including those proposed for PMH’s Morgue Department, Health Minister Dr Duane Sands said yesterday.
This change comes a day after the minister said he would be willing to meet with angry funeral directors who protested outside PMH last week about the new fees. However, on Sunday, Dr Sands also told The Tribune the government could no longer permit “free passes” in health services due to huge revenue deficits.
Speaking to reporters yesterday, Dr Sands said there have been 500 or more suggested changes in the fee structure of the hospital. In the first quarter of 2017, the PHA lost $9m and it is anticipated that for the fiscal year the authority’s deficit will climb to about $50m, Dr Sands said.
To circumvent this, the health minister said there will be a reduction in some fees and an increase of other charges. Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis, he explained, will announce these changes, in 2018.
“We have looked, we meaning the Public Hospitals Authority has been for over a year engaged in looking at how the revenue of the hospital can be brought in line with the expenses of the hospital,” Dr Sands said ahead of yesterday’s Cabinet meeting. “There have been 500 or more suggested changes in the fee structure of the hospital.
“One of those was a change in the storage fees of morticians who have agreed to accept remains for burial. Even though those fees have been in place since 1986, they hadn’t been collected and (there was) a recommended increase from $50 to $100 for a handling charge and a storage charge of $50 a day.
“That created uproar and there was also some confusion about charges for autopsies and the morticians thought that they would have to pay charges for the five or six per cent of people who get autopsies and while that wasn’t true we sat down and had a very, very candid discussion yesterday (Monday).
“I would have listened to their concerns and as a result we decided to hold off for 60 days, during which time we are going to ensure everybody understands what the planned changes are.
“In the New Year, the prime minister will announce to the public some recommendations that my ministry has made to change the fee schedules completely. There will be a reduction or elimination in some fees and an increase in charges and other areas.”
Dr Sands said a progressive approach must be taken in the country to return dignity to public health care.
“The Public Hospitals Authority lost $9m in the first quarter of 2017. We anticipate about a $50m deficit in this fiscal year. Across public health we anticipate another $10m or so.
“Clearly the Bahamian people can’t sustain that. We need to pay attention to the quality of care that we deliver and if we are going to provide good quality equipment, adequate technology, adequate human resources staffing and otherwise we need to have the funds to do it.
“I think we want to take a progressive approach so that those who are able to pay bear most of the cost than those that can’t pay and those will be rolled out to the public hopefully so that ultimately the dignity and the well-being of the people of the Bahamas is improved.
“This process has been in train for more than a year, probably a year and half or so. I have reviewed it and I think there are some reasonable recommendations.
“It now has to be vetted thoroughly by the Cabinet of the Bahamas and strategic decisions made. There are some instances where you don’t want to charge anything at all and there are instances where we can improve.”
As an example, Dr Sands said PMH’s charges in the Intensive Care Unit are about 10 percent or less of what it costs at Doctors Hospital even though there is comparable and some would say even better equipment at PMH.
He said consequentially, PMH is losing millions of dollars of revenue. “We also don’t go after benefits from the Road Act, adequate benefits from the National Insurance Board or from existing major medical insurances even when the government of the Bahamas pays for it,” he said.
On Monday, Dr Sands said the government couldn’t offset the millions of dollars in losses if officials didn’t make drastic changes and make them soon.