REMARKS BY PREMIER AND MINISTER OF FINANCE
DR. THE HONOURABLE D. ORLANDO SMITH, OBE
LAUNCH OF THE VIRGIN ISLANDS NATIONAL HEALTH INSURANCE SYSTEM
JOSHUA J. SMITH SOCIAL SECURITY BUILDING
TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 1, 2015
“National Health Insurance: Your Security for a Lifetime”
Today is a day I have been looking forward to for many years.
It is a turning point in the history of the Virgin Islands where active steps will be taken to ensure that all residents of the Territory have access to health insurance.
A day when we can as a country finally say that everybody in the BVI, adults, children, the elderly will have access to health care that is good and that is affordable.
A goal which is recognised by all countries that they should aspire to.
I served as a physician and surgeon here in the BVI for many years, and recognised that there was quite a great deal to be done to provide the healthcare that the people of this Territory needed.
And today I am even more pleased that we set out to build a first class institution that we would all be proud of, and that would deliver the care that our people, all our people deserve, and as we all remember the New Peebles Hospital was opened in December last year with great fanfare. I want to commend the Minister of Health for getting that done.
Going hand in hand with the provision of an improved standard of care, for which universally, the cost is steadily increasing, and as it must, has and will, in the BVI, is health insurance.
And, while it is was ok for those who had private insurance, and those covered under the Government provided insurance program to get the care needed both here in the Territory and abroad,
For the great majority who had no insurance this was not so, and so we decided as a Government back in 2005 that we would work to make sure that all citizens and residents of this Territory had access through a National Health Insurance programme.
As a medical doctor and surgeon, I have had firsthand experiences of seeing individuals and their families, especially those who could not afford health insurance saddened by the financial burden, instead of being focused on regaining strength and recuperating.
I have seen where high out-of-pocket expenses have created grave concerns for those who could not afford to care for their own health, or for that of their families.
I have seen many instances where our people were denied healthcare abroad because they did not have health insurance.
Or more daunting, they were unable to raise funds to finance whatever procedure they had to do.
Also, I have seen several cases where people had to use their last dollar to access health services, and as such, they were unable to pay rent, school fees, or even grocery bills for that matter.
And so in many of those cases the Government had to step in and find the requisite funding to ensure that those without insurance still had access to quality healthcare. As a Government we were heavily subsidising health care and particularly hospital care. Something had to be done! But we needed a great deal more than we were able to provide at that time.
As a physician, and now your Premier, I could not sit idly by and not pay attention to these myriad challenges and uncertainty that many of our people face, especially those without insurance.
Many countries around the world have moved in this direction: the United States, United Kingdom, Sweden, France and Canada, and the Virgin Islands will now join a number of Caribbean islands such as —Bermuda, Cayman Islands, Turks and Caicos Islands, as well as Antigua and others who all use some form of NHI as a principal source of health financing.
My Government is committed to developing a healthier Virgin Islands and ensuring that all residents have access to quality healthcare services.
This move towards implementing a National Health Insurance System signals progress in taking care of our people, and ensuring that every resident of the Virgin Islands has access to healthcare resources and can that receive quality healthcare.
For all of us NHI means that all residents will have access to the kind of healthcare needed, whether in the near future, or in years to come.
At a time when our health statistics are showing that very large numbers of our population have already contracted lifelong diseases like diabetes, hypertension, cancer or heart disease and where we are likely to see these numbers going up in the future it and they provide quite a considerable cost to people who are suffering, and where we are likely to see these costs going up in the future, it is important that as a country we put in place a system which will guarantee that we get the care we need, when we need it and when the time comes.
Our National Health Insurance System is a critical aspect of the Virgin Islands’ national development goals to achieve health security for all; and to strengthen the domestic healthcare system to achieve international standards of performance.
A critical component of Government’s health reform strategy is restructuring the health financing system to provide equitable coverage for all the people of the Virgin Islands through National Health Insurance.
From an economic perspective, the implications for our economy are also very important. We all know that a healthier population is a more productive population, and our most importance resource remains our people. So we must keep them healthy.
My Government firmly believes that it is our business to take care of the people of this Territory and over the years we have worked diligently to ensure that we achieved this.
As I said, one year ago we opened the New Peebles Hospital and demonstrated our commitment to providing the people of our Virgin Islands with access to affordable, high quality healthcare.
And today, with the launch of NHI, we signal the start of the registration process for that system and our ongoing efforts to take care of the people of the Territory.
For the individual what the NHI means is that whenever a health situation arises it will no longer also be a financial situation.
In a context where we know that getting older usually calls for more healthcare, and more expensive healthcare at that, it is good to have a system that takes care of us as we get older and we will not have to worry about it.
Because the system will cover all elderly persons and all children, as working adults and parents we will not have to worry about healthcare for our parents or for our own children. This is the health security which the NHI brings to us, as adults.
Furthermore under the National Health Care programme, very importantly, there is no exclusion of preexisting conditions, and referral to overseas care is provided for us as with other insurances.
As with any new system that is being introduced, we understand that there will be concerns and questions which our National Health Insurance team at the Social Security Board will continue to assist with any clarifications that you may need.
This launch is yet another step in strengthening the healthcare system to become even more responsive to the needs of our growing population.
We are on a comprehensive health reform agenda, and we are empowering our communities, families and individuals to take control of their health, while ensuring that everyone has access to affordable care.
I commend the Minister for Health and Social Development, Honourable Ronnie W. Skelton and his team at the Ministry of Health and Social Development and the Social Security Board for their steadfastness in bringing this initiative to fruition.
I know that it has not been an easy road to this point, and I especially commend the NHI Implementation Team lead by Deputy Director of Social Security Board with responsibility for National Health Insurance, Mr. Roy Barry. I know the implementation team has been hard at work sensitising the public and addressing concerns on NHI.
On behalf of the Government of the Virgin Islands, I also take this opportunity to express our gratitude to Professor Emeritus Dr. Karl Theodore, and his team from the Health Economics Unit of the University of the West Indies whose efforts lay the groundwork for our NHI system.
The truth is that the NHI presents the Territory with a golden opportunity to make ourselves even better, and to achieve our development vision of an ideal place where people will always be happy to claim residence.
In closing let us make no mistake that the NHI as we have designed it, will be a blessing to our Virgin Islands.
We are taking another step along the road of progress together and strengthening our future with the National Health Insurance: Your Security for a Lifetime.