Guarded welcome for healthcare proposals

  • Long overdue: Charles Jeffers, of Age Concern

    Long overdue: Charles Jeffers, of Age Concern

Plans for a broader, cheaper standard health coverage package to encompass all the island’s residents were given a cautious welcome yesterday.

Charles Jeffers, the deputy chairman of the seniors advocates Age Concern, called a proposal to revamp the Standard Health Benefit “long overdue”.

Mr Jeffers said: “Age Concern has pushed for this for years.

“We need to get basic benefits under one banner and away from insurance companies dealing with the extras.

“If we don’t, there’s nothing to stop insurance rates continuing to go up. They are in the business of making money and satisfying their shareholders.

“If we have our basic benefits under one set of administrators, we stand to benefit.”

Mr Jeffers added: “We are looking at this proposal closely, because a lot of pensions are being taken up with health insurance.

“We’re hoping the Government is prepared to do whatever is necessary to bring down costs.”

The present coverage of the Standard Health Benefit has limited cover for doctors’ visits, prescription drugs or dental care.

The revised benefits, tentatively planned to begin late in 2020, are anticipated to bring savings by combining residents in a single unified pool.

However, a veteran industry insider, requesting not to be identified, predicted “heavy jobs losses” for the health insurance industry.

He said: “A universal health programme means insurance benefits being taken over by the Government and taken out of the hands of private insurers. We are not the first country to do it — Bermuda is late to the universal health insurance game. But everything comes with pros and cons.

“Hopefully, it leads to coverage for everybody from the womb to the tomb.

“But the bad thing about universal insurance is it causes queues. Emergency care is pushed up the line. If you’re waiting on knee surgery, you can be pushed down the line. This is a known fact — it’s happened in every area where universal insurance has been implemented.”

He questioned how it would be paid for: “Countries with universal health insurance have high taxes. All these things have to be factored in.”

Mark Selley, the chairman of the Bermuda Healthcare Advocacy Group, was sceptical. He said the planned four-month consultation period was “not giving us enough time”.

He added: “There’s no doubt that healthcare needs to be fixed, but I don’t think this is going to work the way the Ministry of Health is planning. Will this be a huge loss for the private insurers?

“The copay is not legislated at the moment. Will there be an uproar from doctors if the Government puts that control in place?”

Mr Selley said: “There’s a lot of questions about this. We have not received any prior warning.

“Until we’re told more about how they intend to move this forward, we don’t have any idea how it will work.”

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Published Aug 9, 2019 at 8:00 am (Updated Aug 9, 2019 at 7:30 am)

Guarded welcome for healthcare proposals

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