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House approves hospital funding-grant change

Kim Wilson, the Minister of Health (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

A controversial Bill to change how Bermuda’s hospital is funded was passed last night.

The Government is to pay an annual grant to the Bermuda Hospitals Board, capped at $330 million for the coming year, to replace the existing fee-for-service arrangement under the Health Insurance Amendment Act.

The block payment will be funded by the Government with a more than threefold increase in the amount it takes from monthly premium payments to health insurers, up from $101.97 to $331.97.

Kim Wilson, the Minister of Health, said that the hospital would be held “more accountable” in return for the cash.

She added that the Government wanted “better efficiencies and better health outcomes”.

Ms Wilson said: “We are demanding the best from our hospital and they are taking the progressive and responsible steps to achieve under those demands.”

She said that the Government was also asking insurance companies to “conduct business differently”. Ms Wilson added: “We are looking for each of those companies to use more of the money you are paying in health insurance premiums to pay for your health.”

She said: “We are demanding to put the health of people as a higher priority to the health of profits.”

Patricia Gordon-Pamplin, the shadow health minister, said the Bill would “turn the healthcare system on its head as we know it”.

She added: “I believe it deserves more than the short shrift that the Government has afforded it in trying to railroad this legislation through within one week.”

Ms Gordon-Pamplin said that insurance industry representatives that she had spoken with described consultation with the Government on the changes as “woefully inadequate”.

She added that the country’s need for quality healthcare would not be achieved through the legislation.

Ms Gordon-Pamplin added: “We will see that there will be more expense, in terms of premiums outside of the standard health benefit, there will be no guarantees for efficiencies, and there will be no guarantees for positive health outcomes.”

Wayne Furbert, the Minister for the Cabinet Office, called the arguments made by Ms Gordin-Pamplin “weak”.

Mr Furbert said that the legislation was “the first step” as part of the Government’s promise to lower healthcare costs.

He added: “Is this the final stage? Nope, it’s part of the beginning of where we are headed.”

Craig Cannonier, the Opposition leader, questioned how the Bill would combat high costs.

He added: “We haven’t heard that. We still have not answered the question of how are we lowering insurance costs for Bermudians.”

Tinée Furbert, a PLP backbencher, said healthcare had been allowed to become a “business of profit”.

She said: “We have to try to figure out how to pull in the reins now, if we don’t we are going to be in big trouble Bermuda.”

Ms Furbert urged the island’s residents to “shop around” for healthcare needs.

Michael Dunkley, an Opposition backbencher, called the Bill “Sugar Tax No 2”.

He added: “Sugar Tax No 1 was well-intentioned. Sugar Tax No 1 was done without adequate consultation, no listening, just advising.”

Mr Dunkley said that the Government was “quietly and conveniently putting an increased burden on the private sector”.

He added: “This Bill does nothing to address the fundamental cost of healthcare in Bermuda.”

David Burt, the Premier, said the Bill was a “monumental step”.

He added: “Transformational change is what this government was elected to bring, and that is what we will bring to Bermuda.”

Mr Burt said that improvements would not happen overnight.

He added: “This is the first step to providing a healthcare system that puts the people’s interests over the interests of people’s profits.”

The Bill was tabled last Friday. The new system is scheduled to take effect on June 1.

To view Kim Wilson’s ministerial brief, click on the PDF link under “Related Media”