Basseterre, St. Kitts – The government’s proposed national insurance programme intended to create universal health care for all has moved one step closer to becoming a reality, says the Honourable Eugene Hamilton.

Speaking in Parliament Thursday, Hamilton indicated that a committee had been in place to help the development of the programme and that his ministry had engaged the University of the West Indies health economics unit headed by Carl Theodore.

“The initial contact with the university was made Sept 9, 2016,” he said. “Since then, we have had members of that unit of the university visit St. Kitts at least four times. They have met with a local committee, professionals in the health field, officials from various ministries, members of the social security board and various other stake holders including an overseas actuary.”

He further disclosed that a proposal for the provision of consultancy service for advancing action on a design and specification on a national health insurance system in the federation of St. Kitts and Nevis was received by the government.

“The proposal was discussed by cabinet resulting in my ministry seeking input from Dr. Didacus Jules for his regional perspective seeing that regional discussions on universal coverage began at the OECS heads meeting in 2016,” he said. “Cabinet went further and obtained input from PAHO through its representative based in Barbados, who is the lead spokesman on universal health insurance matters. The cabinet went further and obtained the local committee’s analysis of all of those proposals and took recommendations from the local committee itself.”

He also announced that the government is now ready to embark on a public engagement exercise about the establishment of the programme.

“I would like to announce that my ministry and government are ready to embark on public engagement that we trust will culminate with the launching and implementation of the national insurance programme and its primary outcome of access for universal health care for all,” he said.

Hamilton then implored the public to appreciate what he called the need for such an important programme.

“It is a proposed national system of shared contributions and prepayment by [people] for a package of health services to meet the health needs of the population,” he said. “There can be variations based on consultations with the public, but fundamentally, that is what it is.”

He then explained why he feels such a programme is needed in St. Kitts and Nevis.

“Many [people], because of limited earnings, are without health insurance,” he said. “They lack full access to health care because of the high cost of care, not only in the federation but across the world.”

He stated that government alone cannot cover the cost of care for everyone “as it will bankrupt individuals and the government. There is therefore need to find a mechanism to share contributions in health care across the country for those who can and cannot pay for all [people] who will seek care not only locally, but perhaps international.”

Hamilton also explained the links between national health insurance and universal health care.

“We believe universal health care is part of the new sustainable development goals 2015-2030 and we in the federation have agreed and accepted those millennium goals,” he said. “So, it is part of those goals why we in the federation are pursuing this programme. Universal health care requires progressive action by governments to ensure barrier-free access to quality health services to all [people].”

Hamilton also referenced two individuals from his community he says succumbed to their illnesses due to the lack of finances to secure the necessary health care to underscore the importance of the programme.

“Ordinary people in this federation should not find themselves in that predicament,” he said. “When health care is needed, individuals must be able to have barrier-free access to the care they need.”