Minister Hamilton (left) greets Professor Theodore
Minister Hamilton (left) greets Professor Theodore

St. Kitts and Nevis launches National Health Insurance Commission  

From SKNIS 

BASSETERRE, St. Kitts – The government of St. Kitts and Nevis unveiled its universal health coverage initiative with the official launch of the National Health Insurance Commission at a ceremony held at the St. Kitts Marriott Resort Feb. 23.

As explained in an official brochure: the National Health Insurance (NHI) is a proposed national system of shared contributions and prepayment by all people for a package of health services to meet the health needs of the population. Contributions may be shared with employers, and in some cases, government will contribute on behalf of those unable to do so. The NHI fund will be managed by a government-appointed agency.

The agency will sign contracts with health service providers for the delivery of a package of benefits. As such, NHI members visiting a health service provider will only need to present a membership card and the associated bills will be sent directly to the NHI agency for payment. Any small co-payments are made by the patients directly to the health service provider.

Professor Karl Theodore, director of the Health Economics Unit at the Centre for Health Economics, University of the West Indies (UWI), St. Augustine Campus, Trinidad, said NHIs are a financing instrument, but the purpose is to get the health system to work better.

“When you make up your mind to pool resources and provide good services for everybody, which is what universal health care tells us we have to do, and you look at the amount of resources that you need, it turns out that in most cases, it does not require more than what you are spending now,” Theodore explained, drawing from his years experience working on similar initiatives. “What the country needs is a way to reorganize and reallocate what it is spending so that more people get better service. That is what the NHI is really coming to do.”

Minister responsible for NHI the Honourable Eugene Hamilton said that while health care coverage will be extended to the wider population, focus will be placed on the most vulnerable in society to ensure they can “enjoy the quality health care everyone deserves.”

The case was made for the important role that consultations with stakeholders must play in shaping the policy and promoting awareness and action from the population.

“Some may think universal health insurance is not for them because they have insurance of their own at their job,” Minister Hamilton stated. “What happens if the job disappears, I ask, or if the insurance disappears? Then what? No amount of bake sales and raffles can raise sufficient funds to cover the cost of cancer care, which can exceed $1 million just for cancer treatment. And when you are forced to walk the streets with a sponsor sheet seeking contributions, some well-to-do [people] equally scoff at you. All that we are doing here today leads to the elimination of sponsor sheets seeking contributions to finance medical care.”

Hamilton, who is also the minister of health, added that while curative patient care is important, individuals must also take responsibility for their own well-being and that of dependents by practicing preventative methods such as eating healthy and being physically active to avoid the development of noncommunicable diseases such as hypertension and diabetes, which are common among Caribbean people, including those in St. Kitts and Nevis.

“I really want universal health care to incorporate rigorous health promotions to positively impact lifestyle choices in terms of [the] food and drink that we consume, the exercise and meditation we embrace and an overall preventative regime of wellness initiatives, including pap smears, mammograms, colonoscopy and prostate screenings,” he said.

Prime Minister the Hon. Dr. Timothy Harris noted that the launch was a momentous occasion for the government as it works to deliver affordable health care to all citizens and residents. He said that when implemented, insurance coverage for individuals will be from the “cradle to the grave” and they will be covered “regardless of age, employment, income, or pre-existing conditions. My government has taken this progressive step forward because people matter most to Team Unity,” he emphasized.