Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) Senator Dr. Michael Darville said yesterday that while he supports National Health Insurance (NHI), the government’s latest plan should be introduced incrementally in order to reduce the economic strain on Bahamians.
“We are not in opposition to NHI,” Darville said.
“What we are concerned about is the full implementation of the healthcare package, and the taxes that are associated with it after the Free National Movement (FNM) implemented the 12 percent VAT (value-added tax).
“Our concern is whether or not we are in an economic position in the country to absorb what the NHIA is proposing, or should we move slower and go with an incremental plan where we implement full universal primary healthcare supplemented by selective catastrophic care. And from that particular position, once we are convinced that the country, or the economics in the country, is at a point where it’s sustainable, then we move for the full implementation of the healthcare package.”
According to a recent Public Domain poll, 78 percent of respondents said they support the latest proposal for NHI, which proposes a monthly income contribution of 1.5 percent.
The poll also revealed that there is widespread belief that all citizens should have access to affordable healthcare, with 96 percent of respondents supporting the principle that all Bahamians should have access to affordable care, regardless of their personal health circumstances.
Last October, the National Health Insurance Authority (NHI) released a policy paper titled “National Health Insurance: A Shared Responsibility”, which proposed a standard health benefit (SHB) package that would be guaranteed under NHI through private insurers.
It would also include an employer mandate that would see employers and employees share the funding of the plan.
However, following opposition from different stakeholders and 100 days of consultation, the NHIA proposed lowering the previously suggested two percent monthly income contribution to 1.5 percent and removing a 50/50 cap on salary deductions.
Darville noted there are concerns among the private sector over the current proposal.
“According to the [Bahamas] Chamber of Commerce, they are very concerned, the private sector is very concerned [that] if the projected figure, which was $130 million, is not the right figure and it’s more, it will be the private sector who have to pick up the slack,” he said.
“The private sector is very concerned, without a proper economic assessment of where the economy is at this time, whether or not we can sustain the shock of the full implementation of NHI in the aftermath of the implementation of value-added tax where the government increased it by 4.5 percent.”
Only 57 percent of the poll respondents said they believe that universal healthcare should be paid for by a combination of government, employers and employees.
Darville said, “The big question is: How are we going to implement NHI and whether or not the Chamber of Commerce, the local business population, as well as the Bahamian people are ready for the taxes that will come their way as a direct result of the launch of NHI?”
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