High Hopes for National Health Insurance Aug 20, 2015

British Virgin Islands eagerly awaits the rollout of the government's ambitious UHC program

BVI Beacon Editorial

After more than two decades of promising substantive health care reform, officials seem serious about their new deadline: They have said that NHI registration will open next month, and that payments and coverage alike will start on New Year’s Day.

This is good news, but considering the concerns expressed recently by some industry stakeholders, we can’t help wondering if the deadline is realistic.

We hope so. NHI is urgently needed in the Virgin Islands, where some 60 percent of the population is uninsured. The programme, which was designed by reputable experts at the University of the West Indies’ Health Economics Unit, seems to us to be a progressive, forward-looking plan that could greatly improve the overall quality of life here.

However, NHI is a complex undertaking, and if it is not properly implemented and administered it could cause serious problems for the territory. The programme, after all, will have a tremendous effect on the health care sector, and any missteps could be disastrous for private businesses that have operated here for generations.

For these reasons, we are concerned about various questions that remain unanswered, many of which have been reiterated by health industry stakeholders in recent weeks.

How, for example, will in-network providers be chosen? How much will the scheme reimburse private practitioners? What exactly will the scheme cover?

Also unanswered are questions of cost: Leaders have said that government will fund the programme’s launch with an initial injection, but they have not disclosed the cost or explained where they plan to source the money.

As registration gets under way next month, enforcement is another issue: Given that the Social Security Board perennially struggles to collect social security payments from employers, will the agency’s NHI division fare any better?

In the coming months, then, members of the SSB’s NHI team have their work cut out for them. They will need to work closely with all stakeholders and the rest of the community to ensure a smooth rollout.

Public education is crucial, and we are glad that the SSB has posted some information about the programme on its website. We hope to see regular updates as the rollout approaches, with the goal of ensuring that the implementation process is efficient, fair and transparent.

Meanwhile, the community must come fully on board. This means registering on time, paying in as required, and learning how to fully comply with all rules and regulations. The plan has been on the table for years, and no one has any excuse not to be ready.

Once the pieces fall into place, we have high hopes that NHI will prove to be a groundbreaking social programme that will greatly strengthen this society.