Bahamas: Timing of National Health Insurance Remains Uncertain

Timing of National Health Insurance Remains Uncertain









By: Candia Dames

Nassau, Bahamas

21 October 2005






It remains unclear whether the government will establish the promised National Health Insurance Plan before the end of this term, but Prime Minister Perry Christie said on Wednesday that he is still committed to making such a scheme a reality.


The National Health Insurance Plan was a major campaign promise of the Progressive Liberal Party in 2002, with Mr. Christie continuing to tout the importance of it as prime minister.


Early in his term, he appointed a 15-member Blue Ribbon Commission on National Health Insurance, headed by Dr. Perry Gomez, to examine the feasibility of such a scheme.


On Wednesday, Member of Parliament for South Andros Whitney Bastian asked Prime Minister Christie whether national health insurance will be in place before the end of this term.


It was a question that the prime minister failed to answer in any specifics, saying only that Cabinet will make a decision on that.


He did, however, point to the "urgency" of looking into such a plan.


"From a personal point of view I wanted it to happen," he said. "Cabinet obviously has to make a decision on it. It is something that I heralded from the platforms during the last campaign. It is something that I have always believed to be of vital importance to the poor of this country."


Mr. Christie said the recent poverty study tabled in the House of Assembly by Minister of Social Services and Community Development Melanie Griffin is evidence that there is a significant portion of the population desperately in need of national health insurance.


The poverty study found that just under 10 percent of the population is living below the poverty line.


"Poverty obviously creates a real problem in our country, particularly as you go to the islands," the prime minister acknowledged. "When you reach Andros and go farther south itís from 12 percent to 20 percent."


The prime minister did not give a timeline, but he said that he will make a communication to parliament as soon as his government makes a decision on national health insurance.


Dr. Gomez told The Bahama Journal several months ago that the government had appointed a planning committee to formulate specifics as it relates to national health insurance after signing off on all of the recommendations of the commission.


But while the committee was working aggressively to come up with the right formula for the scheme, it had not yet come up with a definite plan for how national health insurance would be financed, he said at the time.


Nevertheless, he indicated that the plan is no longer a matter of "if", but "when".


"The social health insurance levels the playing field in health," Dr. Gomez told The Bahama Journal. "I believe that health is a right of individuals, not a gift; itís not a privilege. All people are entitled to the best of health care that their countries can afford, regardless of the individualsí ability to pay.


"Thatís a problem we have in our country to a large extent. There is a discrepancy between the health care of the haves and those who have not and I think the best way of trying to address this issue is by finding some means of insuring the entire population and the best way to do that from all I have looked at and the Blue Ribbon Commission has studied is through this programme of social health insurance."


At the time, Dr. Gomez indicated that the development of the scheme is "highly technical" and he indicated that one of the more difficult challenges faced by authorities is coming up with a cost structure for the plan.


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