The extension of BUPA’s health insurance coverage will have no consequences following the roll-out of the National Insurance Scheme (NHI), Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health and Social Development, Mrs. Petrona Smith-Davies told The Island Sun newspaper.
Concerns about the fact that public servants were urged to renew their BUPA coverage were expressed by a resident in a text message during the JTV Speak Your Mind program on 11 April. The resident in airing the concern questioned whether the renewal was an indication that the NHI would not be coming soon.
However, the Permanent Secretary promised that an update on the NHI would be given in coming weeks, and announced that there would be no issues involving BUPA coverage and NHI.
Mrs. Smith-Davies told The Island Sun: “The NHI is coming, but it is not going to come before the current BUPA insurance subscription comes to an end; so obviously the Government is going to have to extend it (BUPA).”
“We have planned the BUPA insurance as such that we have noted that if NHI comes on stream before the end of that extension we will just give notice and switch over, but I can’t tell you the exact implementation date because at present it is before Cabinet,” she added.
Older BUPA Concerns
The BUPA plan was not widely embraced by all public servants. In fact in 2012 during the Standing Finance Committee deliberations Legislators discussed BUPA coverage and listed some of the concerns.
During the appearance of Acting Director of Human Resources (AgDHR), Michelle Donovan-Stevens members of the House of Assembly were informed that the Department of Human Resources did not have a decision concerning the continuation of insurance coverage with BUPA.
Donovan-Stevens disclosed that the Department of Human Resources and the Ministry of Finance had been asked to begin discussions with BUPA about the continuation of coverage and at that time a decision had not been finalized as yet.
She divulged that the Department of Human Resources had worked very closely with many families that had been affected and had concerns about their BUPA coverage. She stated that reports from BUPA were available in terms of claims paid to providers and employees.
In response to the AgDHR’s comments, Third District Representative, Hon. Julian Fraser said that he was concerned that Government may run the risk of being placed in a similar situation which had occurred prior to the commencement of BUPA’s coverage.
Hon. Fraser gave a synopsis of the BUPA coverage and pointed out that persons were complaining about the company’s coverage from its inception. He informed that BUPA seemed to have been the better option at the time and, to date he said that users experience difficulties when seeking medical attention in neighbouring St Thomas.
The Representative opined that service hiccups in St Thomas may be due to the fact that some doctors and pharmacists did not accept BUPA. As a result, Hon. Fraser said that he believes that the Government and BUPA were not doing enough to ensure that persons did not have to spend unbudgeted money for coverage. He emphasized that if this was not addressed BUPA should not be an option.
Hon. Fraser pointed out that it took considerable time before BUPA reached an agreement with Walgreens. He said that it was no value to state that a person was entitled to one 100% coverage but that person was still required to pay out of pocket.
The Representative announced that BUPA should at least provide those basic services that Atlantic Southern had previously covered. He, however, agreed that there were some areas that BUPA covered that Atlantic Southern had not covered. He advised that the negotiations had to be intense.
In March 2012, Minister for Health and Social Development Hon. Ronnie Skelton informed that the BUPA Insurance premium for civil servants may increase in the near future.
Speaking on NDP Radio Program Hon. Skelton recalled that it was the previous Government that signed on to the BUPA Insurance scheme: “….The past government signed, they brought them in and it went out to tender. There were four or five insurance companies that tendered and BUPA was chosen and there was a two year program. The first year ends on the 31 March this year and after the 31 March there is an inflationary nine percentage clause in the premium. So all the people under the BUPA program since the government pays 50 percent of their health insurance will have to pay about four and half increase in their premium,” Hon. Skelton said.
Considering the increase the Minister said that Minister for Finance and Premier Dr. the Hon. D. Orlando Smith would have to note whether it would be possible for Government to assist.
“Now we as a government we have to make a bold decision whether or not we will ask premium owners to pay any portion of it or the government will underwrite it for the next year or two, until the National Health Insurance comes on stream,” Hon. Skelton stated.
Since the announcement of the BUPA Insurance agreement persons continually aired their dissatisfaction with certain aspects of the arrangement on various talk show programs. Even some members of the Government in the past have commented on that fact and stated what they had heard about the BUPA issue.
Former Premier, Hon. Ralph T. O’Neal had announced on many occasions that the BUPA agreement is a good one. “The premiums with BUPA are slightly higher; however the plan is more improved than previous contracts with other insurers. With this BUPA plan, the monthly premiums are evenly distributed amongst the entire group aligning retiree premiums with the premiums paid by public officers. Government continues to subsidize the premiums of public officers by 50% and public officers classified as risk officers at 100%. Historically, retiree premiums are not subsidized, however the Government has agreed on a one-time financial endowment for retirees to offset the increase for the life of the plan only, so that no retiree should pay a nominal rate higher than a public officer,” Hon. O’Neal had stated.