Premier Dr Natalio Wheatley has suggested that the National Health Insurance (NHI) scheme is no longer useful to residents, particularly those seeking overseas medical care.
Dr Wheatley was at the time speaking during a political debate for party leaders at the H Lavity Stoutt Community College (HLSCC) ahead of the elections on April 24. Candidates were asked whether they believe making the NHI mandatory was the right thing to do, and what changes they would make with the currently existing system.
Among other things, the premier argued that NHI is failing and needs much more than a tweak. He contended that one of the biggest challenges with the programme is that most of the NHI monies were being directed to private healthcare providers.
Dr Wheatley said although he had no problem with private healthcare providers, he would have suggested a system that would have allowed persons who can afford it to keep their private health insurance.
“Now you have a NHI and you are not sure when you go abroad whether it’s going to work for you. You’re not sure whether they’re going to accept it,” Premier Wheatley said. “And your health is on the line because, of course, there’s so many individuals out there who have not been able to use the NHI. Depending on where you go, it’s almost worthless right now.”The Virgin Islands
Party (VIP) Chairman further explained that although many business owners are indicating on paper that they are paying into the NHI system, many are truly unable to do so since that may put them at risk of going out of business.
Dr Wheatley urged that lawmakers go back to the drawing board and come up with a system whereby a much smaller tax is introduced to allow persons to be able to keep their private health insurance. He also endorsed having this tax being able to fund persons who can’t afford their own healthcare, while keeping NHI as a public option.
I asked hundreds of questions
In the meantime, Progressive Virgin Islands Movement (PVIM) leader, Ronnie Skelton, has insisted that he can make the NHI work since he was there at the time of the programme’s inception, while serving as Health Minister in a previous administration.
“I asked hundreds of questions when the system was being presented to us, so I know some of the intricacies of the system,” Skelton said during the debate. “But trust me, you cannot allow your neighbours to go without the resources — the financial resources to access healthcare.
He added: “That’s what NHI is and if we need to do anything else in this country, just like we did education, we need to fix healthcare, fix NHI, so your people can get access to healthcare when they need it.”
National Democratic Party (NDP) Chairman, Marlon Penn has also said the NHI programme should remain, arguing that there is still some level of viability.
“If we have all the persons who are owing pay up into NHI, NHI will be in the black right now,” Penn said. “So it says that, despite the challenges that NHI has, it has a level of viability that we need to ensure that it survives.”