Senate passes health insurance Bill
Controversial changes to healthcare financing were passed in the Senate yesterday after two government senators who had excused themselves because of illness returned for the vote.
The Health Insurance Amendment Act was resisted by the three One Bermuda Alliance senators, including Nick Kempe, the Senate Leader, who said it was “rushed” and ineffective.
The legislation was passed after Jason Hayward and Kathy Lynn Simmons attended the debate, despite illness.
Joan Dillas-Wright, the Senate president, said they “got out of their sickbeds to come and support this Bill”.
Mr Kempe's motion to delay the second reading of the Bill was also voted down five to four. He argued that there had been insufficient time to consider the Bill, which was passed by the House of Assembly last Friday.
Mr Kempe's motion was supported by James Jardine, an independent senator, as well as the Opposition, but defeated by the government side.
The Bill was drawn up to allow the Government 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. The legislation will come into effect on June 1.
Anthony Richardson, a Progressive Labour Party senator, earlier tabled the Bill on Mr Hayward's behalf. Mr Richardson said the changes to hospital financing would head off an estimated $20 million increase in healthcare costs.
Marcus Jones, an Opposition senator, said the Bill had been brought to the legislature with “speed and reckless abandon”.
Mr Jones added the legislation failed to tackle rising costs.
He said: “That is where the health costs really hit the Bermudian public really hard.”
Mr Jones added there had been a lack of consultation with insurance companies. Mr Jardine warned that there would be no savings if the hospital over ran its $330 million budget.
He also read out a letter he had received from the Association of Bermuda International Companies, endorsed by the Bermuda Chamber of Commerce, the Bermuda Employers' Council, and the Bermuda Hotel Association, that asked him to push for a rethink on the changes.
Michelle Simmons, an independent senator, said the Government should “go further” instead of “tinkering with one part of the system”.
Mr Kempe said the legislation would not cut costs or bring the island closer to universal health coverage.
He added: “This simply transfers negative claims from the Government's books to the private sector's books”.
Mr Hayward said the legislation was the first in a series of moves to “change our broken system”.
Opposition senators tried to delay approval of the Bill until the next sitting of the Senate on June 5. Independent senators sided with the Government on a final vote, and the Bill was passed by seven votes to three.