Minister for Health and Social Development, Hon. Ronnie Skelton took offence to comments that were made in the House of Assembly about the National Health Insurance (NHI). The Minister in rebuttal to Opposition Member and Third District Representative, Hon. Julian Fraser’s comment that NHI is broken declared that the system works for “those who pay.”
During the Other Business segment of the House the subject of NHI and its flaws were raised by Hon. Fraser who admitted that the system was established to address the urgent healthcare needs of the people of the BVI. “The concept of NHI – anyone who is sitting in our position knew that something had to be done with healthcare and the paying for healthcare because the Government was swamped and stuck with bills for people who had to travel to overseas for treatment and therefore it became necessary for something to be done,” he said.
However, Hon. Fraser said that things have now gotten to the point where something should be done immediately to fix the flaws: “NHI has serious flaws and they need to be ironed out, they need to be worked on. Many people who have to travel overseas have to sit and wait until we reach some point where some form of revenue can be found for them to travel overseas.”
The Third District Representative criticized the manner in which things are currently being done stating that things seem to be created as the needs be: “Many of the policies for NHI dealing with those folks who need medical treatment are seemingly made up on the fly. I can recall when the people from NHI came before us to discuss the plan there were some issues that were raised to which there were no answers. As a matter of fact, we came to some understanding, at least I did – Seniors were supposed to be free,” Hon. Fraser said.
In further noting some of the issues currently experienced with the National Health Insurance programme Hon. Fraser said: “When a person became unemployed they were supposed to be free as well, but people who have become unemployed have found themselves without NHI. They are being told flat out that they don’t have any coverage because your payment was lost. Well if I don’t work where am I going to get money from to pay, and they are being forced to pay. I think that such a policy needs to be formalised and not left up to the people of NHI to decide.”
“I know some people whose NHI became lost due to the fact that they became unemployed. Then there is the situation where someone has retired has no income but their spouse ended up having to pay for them as if they were working. This is a system that is broken and needs to be fixed. Yes a first step was taken, but it is broke and you have to admit it; and it has to be fixed. It’s not going to get fixed unless we admit that it’s broken. Measures have to be taken to fix it,” he added.
Health Minister: NHI works
Hon. Skelton admitted that there are some areas of the National Health Insurance that needs tweaking, but he rejected claims that the system was malfunctioning.
In response to Hon. Frasers’s comments Hon. Skelton said: “NHI is not perfect, it’s not a system that will ever be perfect, that will meet a hundred percent needs of everybody in this country. It’s an insurance system, if you pay into it, it will work for you. If you don’t pay into it, it will not work for you.”
In further explaining how the system works, Hon. Skelton said: “Those people who do not pay into the system, the Government not the National Health Insurance, it’s the government who will have to find the solution to the healthcare needs of these individuals. We have set up the National Health Insurance if you pay into it, it will get you the services you require at the time when you require it. If you do not pay into it, you cannot ask them to do that. That’s not the way it was set up.”
Hon. Skelton however, did admit that there are areas in the National Health Insurance system that need to be remedied. “You cannot expect me as the Minister for Health to make bricks without straw so to speak…We are doing the best that we have. The Member is quite right that the system needs some tweaking and it needs tweaking because it has shown that it can work, and it is working.”
“If you look at the NHI website you would see good stories, there are good things happening. Yes, there are people who need help…people are unemployed they need assistance. Those situations need to be addressed by the government. You cannot ask a system to take care of a problem that the whole government should be looking at. NHI is not a solution to everything, it is a solution to the healthcare needs of people who are paying into the system. Let us be realistic, let us try to find some solutions to the needs of our citizens in this country who really need health care. We need to be able to do that, give people hope – give people solutions to problems; not believing that whatever they want they can get,” Hon. Skelton added.