JIS News

Effectively treating chronic illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension, and high cholesterol can be a financial burden for many Jamaicans.
The National Health Fund (NHF), through its Individual Benefits Programme and the Jamaica Drug for the Elderly Programme (JADEP), has proven to be a lifeline for many Jamaicans living with these conditions. It has resulted in substantial savings on prescription medications and has improved the ability of many persons to treat illnesses, sometimes bridging the divide between life and death.
Retired household helper, Venice Reid (not her real name), is one of the many Jamaicans, whose health has vastly improved by way of the heavily subsidised medications provided through the NHF. The provision of these drugs, she notes, has made the difference between life and death.
“At one point, I was on the verge of death. You see, I am both diabetic and hypertensive and, quite honestly, I was unable to afford the medication. Sometimes, I could only afford to buy half of each, as they were just beyond my reach,” the 63-year old tells JIS News.
She says that without the much-needed diabetes medication, her blood glucose would often soar to potentially life threatening levels. “I use to get so ill.I even passed out on a few occasions. Most days I was really just fighting to stay alive,” says Ms. Reid.
She relates one scary occasion in November 2004, when, after approximately two weeks without medication, she fell into a comatose state for over three hours while at a funeral. Later, she learnt that she had suffered a minor stroke.
“My speech was slurred for the better part of a month; I could hardly move and was unable to perform day-to-day tasks. I was in a real terrible state and was helpless for many months. I felt as if I was a baby all over again,” she recalls, noting that it was a year and half before she could return to work.
Still overwhelmed by the high cost of medication, but determined to stave off another near death experience, Ms. Reid joined the NHF at the advice of her family physician.
With high cholesterol problems now added to her list of ailments, Ms. Reid says she is “eternally grateful for the life gift that the NHF card has given her.”
“The little money I make was not able to stretch that far and I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am still alive because of NHF,” she asserts.
She notes, “now I pay significantly less for my medication, as I not only have the NHF card, I also have the JADEP card, because I am over 60. God is so good, this is more than a blessing; you could only understand if you knew where I am coming from.”
Ms. Reid, who takes Daonil and Metformin HCL for diabetes, Enalapril for hypertension, and Lipitor for high cholesterol, says she can now “comfortably” purchase her medication.
“In one year, I probably spend over $160,000 on medication and most of this comes off the cards. With the JADEP card, the amount I pay depends on what the total cost for the medication is,” she explains, adding that “for an eye drop that cost $3,500, I pay under $1,000. This is really good savings for me,” she notes.
Errol Hamilton also heaps tons of praise on the NHF. Mr. Hamilton says that his possession of both JADEP and NHF cards has ended years of struggle to purchase asthma, high blood pressure, and arthritis drugs. He estimates that since signing up, he has saved in excess of $15,000 on medication.
“I had my Blue Cross health card and by the middle of the year it was all empty. This was really a strain financially so (NHF) has really benefitted me a whole lot especially from a financial standpoint,” he tells JIS News, adding, “I now use the private health card for other aspects of my health care such as doctors’ visits. The NHF cards take care of my medication.”
Since the establishment of the NHF in 2003, more than 238,000 persons have been registered under the NHF Individual Benefits Programme. A total of 15 chronic illnesses are covered under this programme. These are: arthritis, asthma, benign prostatic hyperplasia or enlarged prostate, diabetes, ischemic heart disease, breast cancer, epilepsy, high cholesterol, major depression, rheumatic heart disease, glaucoma, prostate cancer, psychosis, vascular disease, and hypertension. The NHF provides a subsidy on the cost of drugs needed for the treatment of these conditions.
NHF Benefits Manager, Ms. Ann Logan, explains that to qualify for membership under the Individual Benefits Programme, the applicant must be a Jamaican, who resides in the country for at least six months of the year, possess a tax registration number (TRN) and should be living with one or more of the chronic diseases covered. All ages are eligible.
The NHF also makes provision for the eventuality that a beneficiary develops another condition covered under the programme.
Ms. Logan explains that “after enrollment, from time to time, persons may develop another condition and we have what we call a change form, which can be used. It must be completed and certified by the doctor that the patient now has another condition. This is a blue form. Once the form is submitted to us, their record will be updated in the system.”
JADEP, which targets individuals 60 years and over has more than 212,000 enrolled beneficiaries. This programme provides prescription coverage for 10 conditions –
hypertension, diabetes, glaucoma, heart disease, arthritis, asthma, vascular conditions, psychosis, benign prostate hyperplasia, and high cholesterol.
“This programme basically provides the drug free of cost to the patients although the patient is required to make a nominal fee to the pharmacy, which is $40 per item. The registration process is similar to that of the Individual Benefits Programme. The only difference is the application form is pink,” Miss Logan notes.
As with the Individual Benefits Programme, the individual must be a resident of Jamaica for at least six months of the year. JADEP enrollees can also be beneficiaries under the NHF.
“There are benefits on the NHF, which are not covered on JADEP so it is advisable that even if they have a JADEP card they should also get a NHF card to cover those benefits not covered under JADEP,” Miss Logan advises.

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