JIS News

Health Minister, Hon. Dr. Fenton Ferguson, is confident that the ongoing national consultations on financing Jamaica’s public health system will yield tangible solutions, redounding to the country’s benefit.

This position, he says, is based on the outcome of Friday’s staging (June 7) of the first of four scheduled consultations, at the Mandeville Hotel, Mandeville, Manchester, describing it as “successful”.

Speaking with JIS News, following the meeting with a wide cross section of stakeholders in the Southern Regional Health Authority (SRHA), Dr. Ferguson said a number of salient points for financing the sector were proposed by the participants. Several of these, he noted, complemented, in detail, similar ideas suggested during previous consultations with Ministry representatives.

These, the Minister informed, include: the Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF) contributing financing, especially to offset medical costs incurred in resort areas; as well as implementation of special health insurance coverage in this regard.

He said participants also cited the National Health Fund (NHF), National Insurance Fund (NIF), and National Housing Trust (NHT), as potential options. Additionally, he said participants also suggested that the Ministry initiate discussions with stakeholders in the fast food industry to solicit their input.

In his opening presentation, Dr. Ferguson, in outlining several financing options proposed by stakeholders within its agencies during consultations with those groups, indicated that the meetings are being held to compile a menu of tangible options “that will lead us forward”.

Some of the proposals, which he shared during Friday’s meeting include: implementation of a national health insurance scheme; a levy on fast food; fees for selected secondary care; and the imposition of fees for all secondary care services while providing same cost-free at the secondary level,

“Jamaica is working towards achieving developed country status by 2030 (and) one of the main planks to achieving this is through the improvement of the health of the population. We believe the provisions of quality and affordable health care services and improvements in access can help us to break the back of poverty and…achieve our national development objectives,” he told the participants.

In noting the administration’s “solemn” commitment to providing universal access to primary, secondary, and tertiary health care, Dr. Ferguson lamented challenges arising in doing so, within the context of prevailing resource constraints.

“We…need…to seek alternative and creative methods of financing health. We have to determine what we think is an essential basket of services that can be supported by our financing option(s),” he argued, hence the consultations.

The Minister was quick to point out, however, that the suggestions “have nothing to do with government policy.”

“What we are doing is a national consultation to get ideas and to look at the feasibility and, where necessary, to have a conversation, even with the entities that persons have (suggested) to say that they should be part of the process of health financing. We want to hear from the people,” he affirmed.

In highlighting the success of the initial public consultation, Dr. Ferguson said the Ministry will seek to “fine-tune” the suggestions from stakeholders attending all four meetings.

“The ideas that have come (thus far) are very worthwhile…and it is my view that they will get better as we go along. I believe (that) at the conclusion of (the consultations) we will have a significant body of information that will assist the (decision making process) going forward,” he stated.

The Minister told JIS News that he is scheduled to make his presentation in the 2013/14 Sectoral Debate in the House of Representatives on June 25, “and I will speak further…to health financing (then).”.

“(The matter) does not (however) end on the 25th of June. It is a work in progress, and what we want to do, in the final analysis, is to come up with what is best for Jamaica,” Dr. Ferguson stated.

The remaining consultations are scheduled for Monday, June 10, Carter Hall, Holy Cross Church, Half Way Tree, St. Andrew, for the South East Regional Health Authority (SERHA); Wednesday, June 12, Ocho Rios Baptist Church, St. Ann, for the North East Regional Health Authority (NERHA); and Sunday, June 23, Montego Bay Civic Centre, St. James, for the Western Regional Health Authority (WRHA).

By Douglas Mcintosh, JIS Reporter