Bermuda at a tipping point
Today the Government will effectively go into the healthcare business. It has been a rushed process and its consequences were not thought through.
Why rushed? There were only a few weeks separating the introduction in the House of Assembly of the Health Insurance Amendment Act, which changes the way healthcare has been funded for decades, and its date to come into effect.
The insurance companies all complained about a lack of proper consultation and there were a couple of public meetings, one of which was held at an apolitically neutral location.
The result has been confusion among Bermudians about what is happening, why, and its impact on them and their wallets.
In addition, the subject of a $65 million fund as back-up should the Bermuda Hospitals Board spend its full $330 million grant was introduced only the night before this legislation was debated in the House.
It meant there were many unanswered questions — for instance, how is this $65 million going to be funded?
Given that the latest BHB report from 2013-14 has only just been tabled in the House, how do we know if the right checks and balances are being applied?
Will we be told how pricing is being calculated? How will we know if all of the $330 million is being apportioned to healthcare in a cost-efficient way?
For an issue as important and as complex as healthcare, the rush in passing this legislation looks like an attempt to railroad something through — never mind the consequences. Bermudians have every right to be angry about these tactics.
Just because the Government has a large majority, it does not mean it should be allowed to ride roughshod over the people. That is supremely arrogant.
One of the consequences of rushing legislation is that its implications are not fully considered. Whatever the Government says, whatever the reasons given, people are not seeing healthcare premiums decreasing.
This affects those in the private sector much more than in the Civil Service and is in contradiction to the Progressive Labour Party's promise to lower the cost of living, notwithstanding the pledge to reduce healthcare costs.
As a result, yet another burden is being added to the increasing woes of businesses and Bermudians.
On top of things such as the sugar tax, the dividend tax and the increased land tax, banks are passing on the cost of the increased charges that were levied by the Government in the last Budget and charges are now being passed to Bermudians paying their tax with a credit card.
At the same time, there is no sign of the Government reining in its spending and, while fintech may eventually produce jobs, it is not going to do so anytime soon, nor with the kind of numbers we need.
There appears to be no Plan B.
That leads to the other key issue here: the need for more people on the island to increase the pool and spread the cost of healthcare.
Despite the Immigration Reform Group's report being tabled almost 18 months ago, the Government is yet again asking for feedback and engaging in even more consultation.
It is clearly all at sea over this and cannot reach a solution that satisfies different factions within Cabinet and the party. We are on course to spend $1 billion a year on healthcare, the burden of which will fall on fewer, and older, people unless the population is increased.
The $1 billion figure is staggering for a population of some 60,000. Why are we heading there? It's largely because of overuse of medical services — a crucial issue that this government has done nothing to address.
We are approaching a tipping point, with our future uncertain as the burdens being placed on Bermudians increase. I am very concerned for my country.
• Craig Cannonier is the Leader of the Opposition and the MP for Devonshire South Central (Constituency 12)