Atherden stands her ground on medical scans
Former health minister Jeanne Atherden has accused David Burt and Kim Wilson of lying to justify to taxpayers a $1.2 million public purse payout to Ewart Brown.
The Opposition backbencher told The Royal Gazette that Mr Burt, the Premier and Minister of Finance, and health minister Kim Wilson were not telling the truth when they accused the former One Bermuda Alliance administration of ignoring the advice of the Bermuda Health Council over a reduction in fees for medical scans.
“What is being said with respect to us having a vendetta and not listening to technical advice is not true,” Ms Atherden said. “It’s a lie and I put them to proof.”
Former Progressive Labour Party premier Dr Brown owns two medical clinics which are set to receive more than $1.2 million from taxpayers as compensation for the fee cuts imposed by the OBA last year.
The Bermuda Hospitals Board is expected to get $2.4 million for the same reason.
Mr Burt and Ms Wilson have said the fee cuts were imposed to target Dr Brown, with the Premier describing them this month as an “economic vendetta” and the Minister of Health calling them “economic sanctions”.
Mr Burt claimed the OBA Cabinet “disregarded the advice of the Bermuda Health Council”.
Ms Wilson said the health council’s advice was to apply a new fairer methodology to the entire BHB fee structure and it was “extremely odd” that the OBA ignored that and applied it only to diagnostic imaging.
Ms Atherden said neither had produced any evidence to show she ignored the advice she was given by technical officers at the health council, because the reverse was true.
The health council, meanwhile, has refused to share with the public the advice it gave to her.
“This business about a vendetta, I think that that is just so unbelievable,” she said. “The only thing I was targeting was the cost of healthcare.”
She said it was hard to understand why public funds would be used to compensate private businesses whose owner chose voluntarily, as a provider of Standard Health Benefit services, to tie the fees he could charge to BHB’s fee schedule.
“It is important that BHB only charges what it should charge and doesn’t get into the fact that other facilities are linked to its fees,” she said.
“The rationale for making these payments makes no sense to me. Where did that money come from?”
Ms Atherden, a former Opposition leader, said when she was health minister she specifically asked the BHeC to look at whether the fees being charged at the King Edward VII Memorial Hospital for outpatient scans were appropriate.
She was determined to bring them down because they had “gotten out of whack” over the years and were much higher than they needed to be.
“The health council looked at it. They said they believed there should be some changes and if they implemented the changes, this is the impact in terms of the fee changes and the impact on the Standard Health Benefit.
“The health council are the ones that have the expertise in terms of looking at what type of charges should be paid, recognising that they are able to make comparisons with other places, etc, in terms of what’s appropriate.
“I never got the schedule of fees. I never got into the nitty-gritty detail. Someone gave me a recommendation to say ‘put this in’ and I accepted it.
“I accepted the recommendation and said to Cabinet this is what was deemed appropriate at the time.”
She added: “You have got people talking about a vendetta but the bottom line is this: I was presented with an indication of how the fees would be changed ... and I accepted those proposed changes.”
Ms Atherden said reducing the fees for scans meant health premiums did not go up for the “average man” — and that was the OBA’s focus.
“If the fees being charged are wrong, you can’t say that just because somebody was getting too much that they have to keep getting too much,” she said.
Dr Brown’s clinics, Bermuda Healthcare Services in Paget and the Brown-Darrell Clinic in Smith’s, are being investigated by police over allegations they ordered medically unnecessary tests for patients to boost profits.
Dr Brown has denied the allegations. New fees for scans are due to come into effect on November 1.
Neither Mr Burt nor Ms Wilson responded to a request for comment by press time.
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