It was suggested last week that drastic measures might need to be taken to curtail the apparent free-rein pricing medical service providers appear to be enjoying since the implementation of the National Health Insurance (NHI).
The concern about the inflated health care cost since the implementation of the National Health Insurance system has gotten to the point where Junior Minister for Trade and Investment, Hon. Marlon Penn suggested that legislative intervention might be necessary.
While speaking in the House of Assembly on 20 April, Hon. Penn announced that he is constantly receiving complaints about the exorbitant medical prices: “It is an issue that many countries have had to deal with. Even in the US right now there was a Fair Pricing Act that was launched in California to try to deal with these types of issues. I think we need to look at similar legislation to ensure that the systems that we create to help our people and build our health services industry are not abused, are not taken advantage of,” the Junior Minister declared.
“The concerns that persons have raised to me as it relates to the escalation in fees and the escalation of cost of healthcare, creates what we call the whole issue of balanced billing… It creates a significant hardship to persons on the lower scale when they are paying for healthcare in the Territory at this point,” Hon. Penn told the House.
In stressing that urgent action is need, the Junior Minister declared: “We’re going on the second year of NHI, and we cannot allow for this very important institution we’re building…to be destroyed… So we really have to do something quickly as it relates to legislative [measures]to curb this type of behaviour.”
Hon. Penn’s suggestions were well received by Minister for Health and Social Development, Hon. Ronnie Skelton in responding to the concern raised by the Junior Minister disclosed the Ministry is working to improve the services offered at the Hospital as a means and option to costly private care. In further denouncing the pricing hike the Heath Minister referred to the behavior as mercenary and dishonest.
“My responsibility as the Minister for Health is to provide a better service at Peebles Hospital, and I think we’re on the road to doing these things. And, if we do that, then people will have choices,” Hon. Skelton said. In illustrating the disparity in pricing Hon. Skelton noted: “the NHI has to work…I know people who came to me saying that this facility they wanna charge $2,800 for a procedure the same procedure is being done at Peebles Hospital for $600…”
Therefore the Minister agreed that if things persist legislative intervention might be warranted as a last resort: “We need to do legislation to stop people from being mercenaries, so to speak.”
This was not the first time that the inflationary medical costs has been lamented in the House of Assembly. In fact Second District Representative Hon. Mitch Turnbull announced in September last year that some health care providers are abusing the National Health Insurance by increasing their fees, among other things, and at that time he pledged to assist in putting an end to the abuse.
PROFITEERING & ABUSE
While speaking during the September 23 continuation of the House of Assembly sitting Hon. Turnbull announced that some of the health care providers who are abusing the insurance were once against the implementation: “It is absolutely ridiculous that we have some of the same companies and persons that would say that NHI would bankrupt this Territory and that it would fail, and this and that, and these are the same ones abusing the system.”
Hon. Turnbull also noted that some insurance companies are also party to the abuse of the public system: “If I have ABC insurance and I produce that card after getting tended to by a physician, that is exactly who I want to pay my coverage. I did not provide my NHI card, but for these insurance companies to write back to the physicians and say they will not pay until NHI covers it is absolutely an abuse of the system,” the Legislator explained.
In calling out the perpetrators the Second District Representative said: “My difficulty is trying to understand how is it that we have something that we can now call our own, that we have an avenue where we have covered members of the society and this Territory who do not usually have access to insurance, and those of us who are in a position to work alongside the system are the very ones to take advantage of it.”
“Whatever needs to be done to address this direct abuse of the NHI, whatever regulations, whatever fines we need to put in place, we must do so. We cannot continue to allow persons and businesses here in the Territory to continue what they are doing. At the end of the day, the only people that would feel hurt is our people,” Hon. Turnbull further told the House of Assembly.
In March 2016 At Large Representative and Junior Minister of Tourism Hon. Archibald Christian and Ninth District Representative, Dr. the Hon. Hubert O’Neal announced that some of the medical service providers have been bloating their prices since the implementation of the National Health Insurance (NHI), and both Legislators called for the practice to cease and desist.
Hon. Christian announced that he is saddened to hear of the occurrence and stated that the changing of prices can affect the NHI system. “I have been hearing unfortunately that there are some providers that have started to increase their rates, and that is something Madame Speaker that we have to guard against.”
The Junior Minister of Tourism explained that the NHI system was designed specifically around certain rates and when people begin to tinker with the rates it could throw the system out of sync.
“We have to ensure that the providers who are utilising the system, who are billing their clients and their customers are not taking advantage of the system by trying to increase their rates so that they can receive better payment,” the At Large Representative stated.
Meanwhile, Hon. O’Neal mentioned that he has also heard of the tweaking of prices, and warned the medical providers that their actions will have consequences. “I also must express my displeasure at my medical colleagues, who are attempting to fleece the National Health Insurance system by jacking up their fees charged to patients. Now that they know that it is widespread among the Territory, I urge my colleagues to have a conscience,” Doctor O’Neal, who is also a well-known medical eye care specialist, stated.
The Ninth District Representative added: “This is a wonderful scheme that will certainly help to make our citizens healthy and productive people, and I admonish you to not try to undermine the scheme for you will suffer in the long time.”