The National Democratic Party Government’s goal of Universal Health Coverage for the people of the Virgin Islands is now a reality, with the implementation of the National Health Insurance System.
The NHI was launched at a ceremony at the BVI Social Security Board on Tuesday 1 September. The ceremony was attended by Premier and Minister of Finance Dr. Hon. D. Orlando Smith, Health Minister Hon. Ronnie W. Skelton and other Members of the House of Assembly, consultant Professor Karl Theodore, officials from the BVISSB and NHI, local Government and private sector officials and other members of the public.
Health Minister Skelton recalled that universal health coverage has been one of the goals of the NDP Government since 2003. He said even after 12 years of study, they arrived at the same conclusion, that universal health coverage, through pooled contributions, was the logical solution from both an economic and a human rights perspective.
“My conviction strengthened after serving as Minister for Health and Social Development for two terms (and experiencing) first-hand the suffering of so many families year after year that could not raise the money to pay for their much needed treatment and care,” he said.
The Minister said the BVI Health Services Authority has recorded over $24 million in outstanding obligations and millions of dollars leave the local economy every year as demand increased for services that were not available here in the Virgin Islands.
“And so, we set out to build a sustainable health system that would:
• promote wellness and prevention;
• revitalize Primary Health Care to promote early detection and intervention and expand physical access to services;
• bring more specialist doctors, equipment and services to the Territory; and
• provide health insurance coverage to the entire population regardless of age, gender, medical condition, employment or other status.
As our National Health Strategy began to take shape:
• We established a Health and Wellness Advisory Council to guide the implementation of our national strategy for the prevention and control of Chronic Non-Communicable Diseases;
• We formed strategic partnerships to recruit, train and retain quality healthcare professionals and improve the quality of clinical care to internationally recognized standards;
• We built or we are building infrastructure that includes our new state-of-the-art Peebles Hospital, new Nurse Iris O’Neal Medical Centre on Virgin Gorda, an Emergency Call Handling and Dispatch Centre, and the development of polyclinics in strategic locations, one in East End/Long Look and the other in Capoons Bay;
• And, we are now implementing the long-awaited National Health Insurance System that we are here to launch today.”
In his remarks, Premier Smith noted that this is a turning point in the history of the Virgin Islands where active steps will be taken to ensure that all residents of the Territory have access to health insurance that is good and affordable.
“A critical component of Government’s health reform strategy is restructuring the health financing system to provide equitable coverage for all the people of the Virgin Islands,” the Premier said.
He said his Government is committed to developing a healthier Virgin Islands and ensuring that all residents have access to quality healthcare services. He recalled that as a medical doctor and surgeon himself, he has had the experience of seeing individuals and their families, especially those who could not afford health insurance, saddened by the financial burden, instead of being focused on regaining strength and recuperating.
“The New Peebles Hospital was opened in December last year with great fanfare…..Going hand in hand with the provision of an improved standard of care, for which universally, the cost is steadily increasing, and as it must, has and will, in the BVI, is health insurance,” he stated.
The Premier said Tuesday’s launch of NHI signals the start of the registration process for that system and ongoing efforts to take care of the people of the Territory.
“For the individual, what the NHI means is that whenever a health situation arises, it will no longer also be a financial situation….the system will cover all elderly persons and all children, there is no exclusion of preexisting conditions and referral to overseas care is provided, as with other insurances,” he said.
According to Minister Skelton, “National Health Insurance is to healthcare, what Social Security is to our pensions and employment income protection. We cannot build a great little nation without it.”
The Minister has sought to allay the fears of residents who argue that persons earning minimum wage cannot afford to pay $24 per month for comprehensive health insurance. He said rather, they cannot afford not to make this ‘peace of mind investment’ to take care of health emergencies.
There are also concerns by the private insurance industry which claims that NHI will cost more. however, Hon. Skelton countered that entire families can be covered under NHI at a fraction of the cost of private insurance.
Regarding those who say that NHI is a good thing but it should only apply to persons who don’t already have private insurance, he said: “When we spoke to countries of similar size that have taken that approach, they found it to be unsustainable and they are in fact looking at ways to transition to our model.”
Government has urged residents who might still have concerns about NHI to contact the NHI team at the Social Security Board who will continue to assist with any clarifications.