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Wednesday, April 12, 2006 

Bahamians consider national health insurance

by Bahamas Information Services

Posted: Apr 12, 2006 20:00 UTC

GRAN BAHAMA (BIS) - The proposed National Health Insurance plan received a cautious welcome when it was introduced here last weekend.“Confronting new health challenges and our continued progress in maintaining and enhancing good health for all, means that we must be prepared to invest more in health and be prepared to find the resources to make that investment,” said Minister of Health and National Insurance Dr Bernard J Nottage.

He led a high-level team from the Ministry of Health, Public Hospitals Authority, National Insurance Board, and National Health Insurance (NHI) on a three-day tour here.

They held a series of meetings with the Grand Bahama Port Authority, Medical and Dental Association, Chamber of Commerce, and Christian Council, and toured health facilities.

The NHI team underscored the benefits of universal national health insurance and urged all stakeholders to contribute to the plan as it evolves.Unlike regular insurances which do not cover ‘pre-existing illnesses’, the national plan will not discriminate, they pointed out.

Regular insurances take up to three months in some cases to come into effect, the national plan takes effect immediately and continues for life.

The NHI benefits package include out-patient care, prescription drugs, laboratory and diagnostic services, in-patient short-term care, inpatient mental health care, overseas care not available locally, and emergency airlift/transportation.

“Let me be clears,” added Dr Nottage, “we need to find those resources because even though good health comes at a price and some persons treat this price as a burden, we must always bear in mind that poor health and sickness carry an even greater social and financial burden.”

At Thursday’s dinner meeting, Medical and Dental Association president Dr Winston Forbes expressed the “dismay” of his colleagues that Grand Bahama “has been consistently overlooked” although its Freeport is the nation’s second city and Eight Mile Rock next door is the largest settlement in the Bahamas.

He noted that there is no national medical association and the Medical Association of the Bahamas in Nassau only “carries the name.”

“It would be prudent for the Ministry of Health to assist in the establishment of a national association with local or regional chapters so that the people of the Bahamas can be truly represented, not just the people of Nassau,” Dr Forbes said.

He called for Grand Bahama’s input on the national health insurance steering/technical advisory team “so that we can take part in the building of a better health care system for the Bahamas, not just Nassau.”

At Friday’s luncheon meeting Sheila Johnson-Smith, insurance manager with the Grand Bahama Port Authority, took Dr Nottage on over the impact NHI would have on “excellent” private health insurances they are already mandated to pay for their employees as a part of union contracts.

“Would the employer have to stop paying for the medical insurance that it is providing its employees now and just pay for the one that is mandatory?” she asked.

Replied Dr Nottage, “They will pay the mandatory government NHI contribution…the private insurance companies will have to make some adjustments having regard to the mandatory nature of the plan.”

Dr Nottage said the government is “committed to providing access to all Bahamians, regardless of their economic status, of the best health care that our country can afford.”

NHI, he said, is “firmly based in the government’s commitment to enhance and spread opportunities for progress and the benefits of that progress to all Bahamians.”“Good health in the population,” he added, “cannot be left to luck or charity or individual resources.

“It requires clear policies and the collective action of government, business, health professionals and other community groups.

“NHI offers the opportunity for taking collective action, for finding the resources to share the cost of care, for sharing the benefits of access to care and of good health among all persons regardless of their personal wealth and circumstances.

“Like the national insurance, NHI is deeply rooted in our sense of social security and social support so that individuals are not faced with financial catastrophe in times of sickness.”

Already action has started on a major health strengthening projects to construct and renovate health clinics, construct mini-hospitals on Family Islands, improve facilities and equipment at the Princess Margaret Hospital and Rand Clinic, construct a new hospital in Grand Bahama, train and recruit more health professionals, and improve the quality of care and responsiveness to patient needs in all facilities, Dr Nottage said.

Accompanying the Minister were PAHO/WHO representative Lynda Campbell, NHI Commission chairman Dr Perry Gomez, Public Hospitals Authority medical advisor Dr Glen Beneby, Public Hospitals Authority managing director Herbert Brown, National Insurance Board director Lennox McCartney, Grand Bahama hospital administrator Sharon Williams, and Director of Nursing Mary Johnson.

Bahamas Information Services

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