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Insurance hike: ‘If we do nothing, we could see collapsed health system’, Minister

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King Edward VII Memorial Hospital (File photograph).
Kim Wilson, the Minister of Health (File photograph by Akil Simmons)

The island’s healthcare system could collapse “in the near future” without action, MPs heard yesterday.

Kim Wilson, the Minister of Health, told the House of Assembly that the coronavirus pandemic had put strain on the health service and exposed areas that needed improvement.

Ms Wilson said: “If we do nothing, we could see a collapsed health system in the near future.”

She said that factors influenced by the global pandemic, such as the migration of “struggling” companies and people to the government-run Health Insurance Plan and FutureCare programmes, were a significant driver in the ministry’s decision to make changes.

She was speaking before MPs passed the Health Insurance Amendment Act 2021 to increase mandatory health insurance premiums.

The higher rates will support extra prescription drug benefits and a maternal health programme for uninsured women.

Ms Wilson earlier announced a proposed $45 a month hike in the Standard Premium Rate – a 13.6 per cent increase.

The extra money will cover “a new reduced insured headcount” to ensure the Bermuda Hospitals Board meets its revenue target, as well as continued treatment for kidney disease patients and a new maternity care benefit for uninsured women.

There is also a $30 a month increase planned for the HIP premium – a 6.9 per cent rise and a $30 a month increase in the FutureCare premium – up by 6 per cent.

Clients of both schemes will get improved pharmaceutical benefits.

Ms Wilson told MPs: “The increase in the SPR does not fully provide BHB with sufficient funding to sustain their operations.

“A rigorous review of all options available to support BHB was undertaken to ensure the SPR and ultimately the insurer would not endure the entire funding requirements on its shoulders.”

She explained that a portion of BHB funding will be subsidised by travel authorisation fees.

Ms Wilson said: “Government will allocate $11.1 million of travel authorisation fees to BHB.”

The minister told MPs that neonatal risks were rising in Bermuda.

She said: “To ensure all children have an equal and healthy start to life, all uninsured and underinsured women must have access to healthcare and education at this critical point in their life and the life of their unborn and newborn children.”

The minister said that the last increase to HIP and FutureCare premiums was six years ago.

Ms Wilson added: “Since January 2020, the health system has been tested by the pandemic and its strengths and abilities have gleamed steadily throughout the last 21 months.

“However, as we are not an exception to the rest of the world, the changes have also exposed areas requiring improvement.

“There has never been a greater need for healthcare but because of this there has also never been a greater pressure on our healthcare system than now.

“The Government’s commitment to accessible, affordable, high-quality healthcare as a basic human right has not wavered and the pandemic ensures the Government’s continued emphasis on this exact philosophy.”

Michael Dunkley, the shadow health minister, said the One Bermuda Alliance was “very concerned” about the amendments.

He added that a 13.6 per cent rates rise was “significant”.

Mr Dunkley said: “In the middle of a pandemic, when the economy is struggling and when the economy was struggling before Covid, we are increasing taxation on people.”

He added that legislators were being asked to consider changes without all the information because reports from organisations like the Bermuda Health Council and the BHB were not up to date.

Mr Dunkley said that using travel authorisation fees to subsidise BHB funding was another tax increase.

Mr Dunkley said: “Now we are taking money from a travel authorisation that was set up – that the Government has said previously – to cover the cost of the significant testing that we’re doing on the island.

“Now, we are passing some of that fee on to the Bermuda Hospitals Board.

“So I’m assuming now that the TA is never going to disappear.”

Cole Simons, the Opposition Leader, said his own research showed that the island’s healthcare costs increased by 193 per cent over the past 15 years.

One Bermuda Alliance MP Susan Jackson said that the increases were “a Covid tax by the back door” – and that seniors were “feeling the brunt”.

Ms Jackson added: “There was no real warning and the timing is off for seniors who have a fixed income.

“It may seem an insignificant amount for those working full time, but this monthly increase is going to have an impact on seniors.”

Tinee Furbert, the minister for seniors, blamed the increases on the impact of Covid-19.

She said: “This is not an easy decision for us.

“We didn’t ask for a pandemic and we didn’t ask for a decrease in headcount – we have been very progressive in increasing our headcount.

“We have done our best to keep the premium at the lowest level because it could have been higher – and it isn’t.”

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Published September 25, 2021 at 7:59 am (Updated September 25, 2021 at 7:59 am)

Insurance hike: ‘If we do nothing, we could see collapsed health system’, Minister

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