PRIME Minister Allen Chastanet has indicated that the current state of the island’s health care insurance system is unsustainable and that plans are afoot to remedy the situation.
The Prime Minister said that given the existing structure of the health care system, with government being the main insurer, a more comprehensive and cost-effective method of insuring the citizenry needs to be adopted because a large share of government’s resources is being spent.
“That number is just getting bigger and bigger and, as a percentage of our budget, (investment in health care) is growing,” Chastanet told the media last week. “With the addition of the two new hospitals, it can be easily determined that health care has become the single largest expense that Saint Lucia has. It’s already around 10% or 11% of our costs but can easily become as high as 17%.”
High quality basic health care was among the promises made in the United Workers Party (UWP’s) manifesto earlier this year and Chastanet said his government intends to keep its promise, including the introduction of an affordable health care insurance programme.
“Some businesses are currently providing health care insurance to their employees with both the companies and their staff making contributions. They’re only buying that health care insurance programme for members who work in their companies. So imagine, if you will, that we have now one health care insurance programme and 100,000 people buying into that programme. (It means that) the cost of health care insurance will come down considerably,” Chastanet explained.
Chastanet said government is aiming to create an environment in which every public and private sector company provides health care insurance for their staff via joint contributions. However, he said government will pick up the tab for those who cannot subscribe to the plan.
“At that point, it’s really left to the government to pay for pensioners who have made no contribution and don’t have the ability to pay for themselves, people who are unemployed on s a short-term basis, and people below the poverty line,” Chastanet said.
Chastanet said during meetings he has attended in the region recently, a push is underway to get the OECS and CARICOM territories “to start looking at health care insurance on a regional basis”, which would result in even lower premiums towards such a plan and an increase in the range of services covered by such a plan.
“We are looking at implementing this as quickly as possible,” Chastanet said. “We are in discussions with the private sector because we have to get their cooperation. This is something for which everybody has to see the benefit. But until there is a revenue stream that’s outside of taxpayers’ money, we’re never going to have a quality health care system and it’s certainly not going to be sustainable.”
Chastanet also defended government’s amnesty for unpaid hospital fees arguing that the nation’s health can suffer drastically should people not feel confident about visiting hospitals where they have unpaid bills.
“I have personally come across people who cannot pay their bills and because they feel embarrassed every time they go to the hospital and be asked whether they’re going to pay their bill, they don’t go. That’s the last thing you want to see happen,” the Prime Minister explained.
He added: “So I think that the amnesty is absolutely necessary; it’s a humanitarian position and one that would be easily supported. We have to solve health care in the medium and long-term. So I’m hoping that I will be in a position certainly before the next budget cycle to be able to announce how government is going to be able to resolve that problem.”