A National Health Insurance Plan in the Works for Jamaica

Minister of Health Dr Christopher Tufton told Parliament yesterday that too many Jamaicans are denied healthcare. (Photo credit: JIS)

KINGSTON, Jamaica, Wednesday May 8, 2019 – The Jamaica government should begin rolling out a national health insurance plan within the next financial year.

That’s according to Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton who yesterday tabled, in Parliament, a Green Paper on the proposal for the National Health Insurance Plan (NHIP).

He told the House of Representatives there would be a national consultation and a final draft of the plan would come out of that.

The Health Minister lamented that, as it stands, too many Jamaicans are denied healthcare. But he said the Jamaica Labour Party administration intended to fix that.

“The NHIP Green Paper . . . forms an important part of the Government’s response to this situation. This Green Paper will lead to a final proposal aimed at providing appropriate levels of access, coverage, and financial protection to the population. It is a promise we made when we campaigned for office back in 2016 and a necessary addition to public health financing,” he said.

“Our aim is to discuss the Green Paper with critical stakeholders over the next six months, while refining it in order to have a finalized plan ready for phased implementation in the upcoming financial year.”

Dr Tufton pointed out that only 20 per cent of the population has health insurance, and more than half of those are public sector workers.

“The lack of insurance means that too many people, including the poor and vulnerable, are denied access to timely medical care due to long waits and inadequate service and equipment. In 2016, 32 per cent of Jamaicans reported that they did not access care when needed due to financial reasons, while World Bank data (2011) reveals that the average Jamaican with a NCD [non-communicable disease] allocates a third of his/her monthly household income to health care,” he said.

Meantime, the Health Minister appealed to Jamaicans who can afford private insurance to get it, and to health insurance companies to make getting medical insurance policies more appealing.

“It is an investment in yourself; the best that you can make. Also, I want to say to the private insurance companies, find creative ways to get more Jamaicans to get insurance. I am prepared to sit with you and talk to you to see how the Government can assist that process. This must be a partnership,” he said. “Private health insurance must complement the proposed NHIP, with Jamaicans encouraged to ‘top up’ or establish such relationships as appropriate, as an investment in themselves.”

Minister Tufton also had a complaint about people who have private health insurance and use the public health system without presenting their insurance cards. He said they were “subsidizing private insurance providers at the expense of the public health system and the taxpayer”.

“We cannot afford it. The policy already exists for hospitals to take a fee from these private cards once they are presented. However, this is dependent on the cardholder presenting his/her card, and many do not,” he said.

However, the Health Minister warned that the authorities intended to fix this through appropriate amendments in law, and he said he would be meeting with the private insurance companies to discuss this in the coming months.

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