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Former union leader critical of FutureCare’s payment policy

A former Progressive Labour Party Whip said Government should not be shifting the burden of payment for FutureCare to seniors yesterday.

Ottiwell Simmons, who also used to head the Bermuda Industrial Union, is the director of the Age Concern Board, a charity that advocates for the elderly.

He spoke out after Government increased the premium payments for Government's compressive health insurance plan for seniors, FutureCare, as well as their basic Health Insurance Plan (HIP). Starting tomorrow, premiums will increase by six to 25 percent a month for FutureCare, depending on which phase an individual joined the plan.

Those that joined the first phase will see their premiums increase from $300 to $375 while those who joined phase two, or plan to join phase three, will see premiums increase from $600 to $635. All Bermudian seniors are now eligible for the plan. HIP premiums will also increase 29 percent by $86 a month.

Yesterday, Age Concern said the increases were “unacceptable”, particularly as they came during a period of economic turmoil for many.

Mr Simmons urged Government to do more to reduce the spectrum of healthcare costs experienced by seniors, including the provision of health care services, rather than transferring the burden of payment onto seniors who are on fixed incomes.

“Surely we cannot ignore the cries of dissatisfaction from our ageing citizens,” he said.

Age Concern Director, and long-term insurance entrepreneur, Charles Jeffers added: “Our ageing population is seeking immediate help in this regard.

“The news of another increase, particularly during these challenging economic times is causing us to seriously question whether the current configuration of the Future Care and HIP programmes are sufficient enough to sustain the health and well-being of our seniors.

“I feel very passionately that we must implement a new and radical change in the provision of health care services and health care coverage in order to safeguard the health and financial well-being of everyone, especially our seniors.”

The charity said it understood Government had to tighten its spending this year because of the shrinking tax base, adding they had been “gracious” about their reduced funding.

However, executive director Claudette Fleming said: ‘We cannot seek to pay our current bills at the expense and health of our older citizens who have already provided so much to this country.

“A line must be clearly drawn between the optional and the essential. Affordable healthcare for seniors must remain an essential priority, to do anything less will equate to a significant failure of the Government to make good on its promise to our elders. We must honestly ask ourselves if the current state of affairs is honorable or acceptable.

A Ministry of Health spokeswoman said they appreciated Age Concern's comments, but ultimately had to ensure the plan was fiscally responsible.

“The increases to HIP and FutureCare were implemented following the annual actuarial review of the plans,” she said. “Premiums have to reflect the increased use of services by the population, and the increased cost of healthcare.

“Sustainability is paramount in the health system, and it would have been fiscally irresponsible to set the premiums at a level that could not support the claims.”

She added that the Ministry was seeking broader reforms to the health system that will alleviate the burden on seniors and other populations.

“The National Health Plan, which the Ministry of Health has released for consultation, has as its foundation the need for Bermuda's healthcare system to be both equitable and sustainable for all residents of Bermuda,” the spokeswoman said. “We are confident that Age Concern will also provide the Ministry of Health with their valued feedback on the National Health Plan.”

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Published March 31, 2011 at 10:15 am (Updated March 31, 2011 at 10:14 am)

Former union leader critical of FutureCare’s payment policy

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