NHI expansion delayed to 2021
The expansion of the National Health Insurance (NHI) program will be delayed by six months, Minister of Health Dr. Duane Sands said yesterday.
The program was initially slated to launch July 2020.
However, Sands said it is likely the program will now launch January 2021.
“NHI is alive and well,” he said while on Morning Blend on Guardian Radio 96.9.
“We have about 56,000 people that receive primary care benefits through NHI. We’ve made a commitment to expand the services provided but we are not going to do it in this fiscal year.”
Sands added, “Again, I am the health minister and, so, whether it’s popular or unpopular I’ve got to say what are either the anticipated or unanticipated consequences of whatever decision we make. At the same time, I am also a member of the Cabinet and so I support the delay. We’re going to push it back in the first instance by about six months and then we’ll see.”
The Christie administration introduced the enrollment and primary care phase of NHI on May 1, 2017.
It did so with no public insurer in place and no known means of funding the program.
The former government originally committed $24 million to catastrophic care, but soon said it recognized the need to increase it to as much as $30 million.
While the Minnis administration intends to expand the program, Sands said it ultimately came down to how it is funded.
“We have had a number of discussions about sin taxes, sugar taxes, employer contributions, employee contributions,” he said.
The minister continued, “Bear in mind when you get away from the health aspects of this, it is the politics of taxation that rears its ugly head.
“Bahamian persons are very, very tax adverse and so we recognize that as the economy grows, as it is, then this reluctance which will never ever go away will diminish. So if we get our economy revved up and moving, the pushback is going to decrease. You get more people working [and] there’s less of an argument.”
According to the most recent plan for NHI, the program will be funded by contributions from businesses.
The National Health Insurance Authority (NHIA) estimates that the annual premium per employee would be $1,000 per year or $84 per month.
Employees earning more than $66,667 will pay the entire premium.
Speaking about the contributions, Sands said, “You have to make it a very even playing field so whether you’re from Padoleo Street or you’re from Old Fort Bay, you should participate in the program.
“You should contribute to the program and it should be a progressive contribution, so if you have more you should pay more. Now, if you have less, you should [pay] less but you should pay something to scale. So, we’ve tried to create that model.”
More than 160,000 individuals are expected to receive coverage from NHI when the program is launched.
Education: Goldsmith, University of London, MA in Race, Media and Social Justice