JIS News

The Ministry of Labour and Social Security is encouraging pensioners who have not yet registered to receive electronic swipe cards under the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) pensioners’ health plan to do so, or risk losing the benefits which the card provides. The electronic swipe cards, which came into effect April 1, replace the previously used paper cards, which are now deemed unacceptable.
Denzil Thorpe, Director of National Insurance at the Ministry, told JIS News that under the Ministry’s health plan, known as NI Gold, eligible pensioners can access health insurance benefits, such as doctor’s visit, dental and optical services, prescription drugs, hospitalisation, and surgical procedures at decreased rates.
“They get the services at a reduced cost but there is no premium that they pay, so the NI Gold is free to them, except for the co-payment they make at the service provider. All they have to do is be a registered pensioner in order to access it. But in order to access it, they have to have the swipe card,” Mr. Thorpe emphasised.
Of the more than 73,000 active pensioners on record at the Ministry, the National Insurance Director revealed that to date, only 45,000 of them have registered to obtain the swipe card.
He said while the Ministry is dissatisfied with the shortfall in the number of pensioners signing up for swipe cards, they have been unable to pinpoint a solid reason why more persons have not registered.
“What we do know is that there are quite a few pensioners who reside overseas and because this is a local benefit, those persons would not necessarily come in to register,” he said. “We will also be doing further investigations as well to see if there are persons who have just not heard about it [NI Gold] despite all the public education we have tried to get done,” Mr. Thorpe added. The Ministry had embarked on an extensive islandwide programme to educate pensioners about the benefits that are accessible from the health plan. NI Gold town meetings were hosted in all 14 parishes. Speaking against the background of the need to boost the number of pensioners receiving swipe cards, the Director said, “we expect to do some more public education on it, because we do think that maybe the message has not gone out to everybody as yet”. To this end, he projected that the Ministry would again utilise the electronic and print media to heighten awareness about the necessity of having the swipe card.
Mr. Thorpe pointed out that pensioners who have already registered, needed to claim their cards at the various locations of the Electoral Office of Jamaica (EOJ) across the island.
The NI Gold is a health plan administered by the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, in collaboration with Blue Cross of Jamaica and the Electoral Office of Jamaica (EOJ). Launched in December 2003, the NI Gold Programme has so far cost the National Insurance Fund approximately $345 million. Upon implementation of the plan in 2003, paper-based cards were initially distributed to all pensioners to access benefits.
These paper cards were introduced as a short-term measure, as given the technology of the heath care provider, “it was always intended for pensioners to have the swipe card as that was how the Blue Cross system is set up”, Mr. Thorpe pointed out. The electronic swipe card came into effect in April, following two previous delays from the original deadline of July 2004, and then November of last year.He said the second delay was due to Hurricane Ivan, “so we had to push it back further to April 1 of this year”. The Director told JIS News that the NI Gold plan was one of the best programmes the Ministry had implemented for pensioners, and based on their feedback, they too thought it was beneficial to them.
“Some people may look at the individual benefits and see them as being small, but when you consider that it is at no cost to them, it definitely does assist the pensioners with medical expenses that they would have had to pay anyway,” Mr. Thorpe explained.