The highly perused and debated National Health Insurance (NHI) legislation was passed with amendments in the House of Assembly on 8 April, 2014.
The Bill was presented by Minister for Health and Social Development, Hon. Ronnie Skelton, and was supported by both sides of the House. During his presentation of the objects and reasons of the Legislation Hon. Skelton became very emotional as he recalled that a few years ago he was very ill, and required a very costly medical procedure to save his life. He stated that had it not been for health insurance, and the support of family and friends he might not have been here. Therefore, he noted that he is very concerned about the large part of the BVI population who are without insurance.
The Health Minister explained that approximately 65 percent of the residents in the British Virgin Islands are without medical insurance and opined that the passage of the Bill will make it possible for all legal residents of the Territory to have equal access to quality healthcare at a cost that is not prohibitive. He also noted that at present many residents turn to their elected representatives for assistance with their medical expenses and that the NHI will eliminate the need for such dependence.
Hon. Skelton also noted that the NHI might not be implemented until October, because there are certain administrative requirements that need to be put in place before implementation.
Third District Representative, and Opposition Member, Hon. Julian Fraser during his contribution to the debate told the House that he believes that there are some hidden factors involved in the proposed health insurance plan and went on to ask some questions which he said persons are asking in the community.
The Legislator told the House that some of the businesses have extressed that they are not in favour of the NHI because they already have an insurance plan that their employees are comfortable with, and noted that the proposed plan does not offer close to what their employees are getting in their current plan.
Hon. Fraser told the House that he has concerns about the NHI being administered by the Social Security Board because NHI is a “bigger monster;” and he opined that NHI should have been established as a separate statutory body.
Deputy Premier, and Seventh District Representative, Dr. the Hon. Kedrick Pickering stressed that 65 percent of the population is without medical insurance and told his colleagues that they cannot afford to obstruct the legislation which will ensure that the people of the BVI have a better quality of life. He told the House: “If you’re fortunate when illness strikes you can go overseas, but if it strikes and you can’t make it overseas, Peebles Hospital must be able to do what is necessary. NHI is not only important, it is imperative at this point in time…It has been researched, and turned over not only from experts in the BVI but international ones.”
First District Representative, and Opposition Member, Hon. Andrew Fahie explained that he attended NHI consultative meetings and noted that many of the questions asked by residents remain unanswered. He told the House that he is aware that all change will bring about concerns, but felt that this legislation will have an impact on small and large business Hon. Fahie told the House: “As usual with this administration it is a done deal… It is one thing to sell it now that this is the plan, then next couple of years find out that the plan is putting the country in bankruptcy.”
Mr. Fahie asked the Government to let the private insurance companies participate in the administration of NHI with the provision that Government controls the premium. With this arrangement, Hon. Fahie explained that Government will relieve itself of having to manage the system and be able focus on improving the hospital.
“I want my people to get health care, but quality health care…the question is have we done the correct projections. The Government could not study this little boy from West End, God knows they don’t, but I am just bringing the concerns as they come to me. Some are too afraid to come to the Government themselves.”
On the other hand, Leader of the Opposition and Ninth District Representative, Hon. Ralph O’Neal told the House that the NHI is something that is needed: “I am sure that all the members here had to take money out of their own pockets to help people get help here or overseas,” he stated.
At Large Representative, Hon. Archibald Christian noted that the research for the NHI was done by the University of the West Indies, which is an institution that is respected in the entire Caribbean and elsewhere.
Premier Dr. the Hon. D. Orlando Smith during his debate contribution remarked that people may say that they can go to Miami to get help, but at some point in time everyone will have to go to Peebles Hospital. He also noted that under the NHI no pre-existing medical condition will be excluded, which is not the same for other private insurance coverage.
Second District Representative, Hon. Alvin Christopher told the House that he supported the bill with the hope that it will be implemented properly, but enquired why the Social Security Board was being “saddled” with the responsibility of administering the NHI.
Minister for Education and Culture, Hon. Myron Walwyn also stressed the importance of the bill and remarked: “It can’t be in a modern Virgin Islands that who is rich lives and who is poor dies,” and noted that he does not understand why people will buy Gucci and don’t want to pay 25 for health care.”
Minister for Communications and Works, Hon. Mark Vanterpool said that the bill needed to be passed because every ten persons we see walking around, six are without health insurance: “We have to start, we have to build a framework for the NHI for the people we love. This is something we should be proud of because it is a means to protect the purse of the Virgin Islands… It goes beyond politics — our health, the protection of our health and the financial cost of our health…I am glad we had the courage to move it forward and not keep postponing it for one reason or the other. There is nothing on this bill marked perfect, but there is something in it that says good,” the Minister announced.