Great value in a National Health Insurance Plan

Friday, May 10, 2019

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While data showing that only 20 per cent of the population has health insurance is not new, it certainly should jolt us all to consider the value that a National Health Insurance Plan (NHIP) will offer to Jamaicans.

On Tuesday, Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton, in his contribution to the Sectoral Debate, tabled a Green Paper on a National Health Insurance Plan that, at first glance, gives detailed options on coverage and funding. It also outlines the benefits of the plan to the country.

The issue of a national health insurance scheme has been discussed intermittently for more than 50 years. Indeed, the idea was given thought in 1965 when the National Insurance Scheme was being formatted.

Since then, two Green Papers have been tabled in Parliament — first in 1974 and again in 1997 — but the idea was shelved for various reasons, including the tight fiscal space in which the country was operating.

We hope, though, that this time the NHIP can become a reality, given the improved state of the economy and, we hope, greater acceptance by the population of the importance of preventative health care.

Indeed, that very point was made By Dr Tufton on Tuesday. “The health of our nation,” he said, “reflects the level of social and economic development, the choices made by Government and the people to promote and protect health, to manage illness and specific health problems, and to respond adequately to public health emergencies.”

While noting that the country has “achieved many milestones in health”, Dr Tufton correctly highlighted the fact that the challenge we now face is “how to ensure that all Jamaicans, regardless of their socio-economic condition, age, and sex, be empowered to achieve their fullest potential in health, leaving no one behind”.

The lack of health insurance has particularly devastating effects on the poor and vulnerable. That harsh reality was reiterated by Dr Tufton as he pointed out that three years ago, 32 per cent of Jamaicans reported that they did not access health care, when needed, due to financial reasons.

He also reminded us that World Bank data in 2011 revealed that the average Jamaican with a non-communicable disease allocates a third of his/her monthly household income to health care.

Dr Tufton has said that the Government intends to discuss the Green Paper with critical stakeholders over the next six months, while refining it in order to have a finalised plan ready for phased implementation in the upcoming financial year.

A major factor will be to ensure the sustainability of financing for the plan, especially given the increased demand on our health services from an ageing population.

Our hope is that the proposals in the Green Paper will benefit from strict examination, diligent debate devoid of partisan politics, and commitment to Jamaica finally being able to provide universal access.

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