The Bahamas Government, as they seek to prepare the country for the initial rollout of National Health Insurance (NHI), held a presentation for public education at the Anglican Hall on March 30 in Marsh Harbour.
Dr. Delon Brennen, Deputy Chief Medical Officer in the Ministry of Health, presented information and fielded a variety of questions from the audience on how it would work as they expressed concerns over the lack of facilities on Abaco.
NHI, as explained by Dr. Brennen is a new Government programme designed to ensure all legal Bahamian residents, regardless of income, age, island of residence or current health status, can receive health care free of cost at the point of service. The cost for health care, he explained, is paid for in full or in part, by Government.
According to Dr. Brennen, only one third of Bahamians have health insurance and the average Bahamian household pays about $2,300 per year.
He said that amongst those without health insurance, 32 percent have at some point needed medical treatment but did not seek help because they were worried about the cost.
“We MUST improve access and affordability of quality health care for our people to ensure health care for all,” he said.
Among health issues in the country he said that Infant Mortality rates are still high, that the Bahamas has the highest Diabetes rate in the Caribbean, as well as high rates of Heart Disease and Cancer which is compounded by the low utilization of essential health services.
Dr. Brennen said that at the heart of all planning and policy-making decisions regarding health care for Bahamians, NHI seeks to make it more modern, affordable and accessible.
He said additionally that even with the advent of NHI you can choose your doctor from the public or private sector and you can choose your insurance provider.
The end result that NHI seeks to bring about is Health Systems Strengthening in order to ensure a high quality of care is provided nationally.
Dr. Brennen said that NHI initiatives aim to reduce waiting times, improve customer services, and enhance care quality through providing extended clinic hours, updated infrastructure, Improvements in emergency services, additional equipment and improvements in supply chain management, better medical technology, and training for medical staff.
One of the main dialogue points with the audience revolved around the health infrastructure on the island as the present government clinic in Central Abaco has numerous issues and the new mini-hospital is five years in the making and yet unopened.
Further to the issue surrounding the facilities is the lack of specialized equipment on the island, that though some medical equipment is expected to be provided in the new facility, the facility remains unopened and unable to benefit residents.
Dr. Brennen said that persons would be able to use all certified physicians on Abaco and those physicians would be able to outsource to whichever lab or facility is needed to provide the necessary service.
Explaining further he said that one of the objectives of NHI is to raise the standard of health care in the country and he confirmed the question that the Marsh Harbour Clinic is not up to the standard.
He said that all legal residents of The Bahamas would be covered under NHI and regardless if you are healthy or sick, older or young, employed or unemployed, low or high income.
He further stated that the NHI is being introduced at no direct cost to all legal residents, though the funding for the initiative comes from the consolidated fund, He added that persons could opt out of the program, but that it costs nothing to be in it.
NHI is intended to cover primary care, which is care provided by your family doctor or other primary care professional in the public or private care setting.
Primary Care covers doctor visits, lab tests, imaging, medications and general screenings. It also covers basic visits relating to maternity care, hypertension, diabetes, mental health, obesity and HIV/AIDS.
The government through NHI will cover the costs of physician visits, laboratory and diagnostic imaging services and pharmaceutical drugs.
Dr. Brennen said that NHI Enrollment is scheduled for April and the program start for May of this year.