HEALTH Minister Dr Duane Sands. Photo: Shawn Hanna/Tribune staff
By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Chief Reporter
CABINET could make a decision on the future of National Health Insurance before the next budget cycle, according to a hopeful Health Minister Dr Duane Sands.
Dr Sands told reporters outside the Churchill Building yesterday the current trajectory of the NHI Authority made it likely the entire process could be completed by the end of the fiscal year.
“I believe that certainly,” Dr Sands said, “when you say year, it is hoped that you’re talking fiscal year, not calendar year. Because obviously that anniversary has serious implications so if we are able to complete this process before budget then obviously we can make some important decisions.”
The authority’s consultation period ended just before Christmas, and it is now compiling a report for the Minnis administration on the outcome of talks with healthcare professionals, the private sector, trade unions and Bahamian public.
The next step in the government’s NHI plan, according to Dr Sands, is for the Cabinet to determine how, when and what form the scheme should take to achieve its healthcare objectives.
“Dr Robin Roberts, chairman of National Health Insurance Authority, would have said that they are just about done and they are in the process of starting the preparation of their report for the ministry, but most importantly for that report to then move on to Cabinet,” the Elizabeth MP said.
“We believe that a reasonable timeline for determining when Cabinet can slot the NHI team into their schedule will be sometime in February, but that is obviously up to the prime minister and the secretary to the Cabinet to determine exactly when the National Health Insurance Authority will have an audience with Cabinet.”
He continued: “But it is at that point that the most important decisions will be made. So they would have polled civil society, they would have polled employers, unions, a number of individuals and they have moved this along tremendously. So once all that information is presented to Cabinet, Cabinet will have an opportunity to consider it to weigh it and to make a final decision.”
A proposed expanded contributory scheme was announced by the NHIA in October, and it was recommended that the salaries of every employed Bahamian will be subject to a deduction of about two percent each month as a means to pay for universal healthcare coverage for all, including children, elderly, and the unemployed.
The NHI policy paper outlined several timelines: including April to July 2019 for the launch of the standard health benefit and NHI expanded coverage; July 2019 for a sugary drink tax and national wellness programme; a January 2020 launch of the employer mandate/two per cent deductions for businesses with 100 or more employees; and January 2021 employer mandate expansion for all employers and deadline for all grandfathered private insurance plans.
Yesterday, Dr Sands said: “We are seeking to be transformational in our approach to this country and what that means is we look at things critically and make a determination as to what are the root causes that need to be addressed, and then change them. It generates a tremendous amount of conversation, some controversy, and sometimes that conversation gets very loud but that’s how you build a country.”
He added: “And if we were not dealing with difficult controversial issues then the likelihood is we would not make a whole lot of progress in improving what is happening in this country.”