PHILIPSBURG–The process being pursued by the Ministry of Health, Labour and Social Affairs VSA to ensure that everyone has access to basic health insurance is now referred to as a General Health Insurance (GHI), no longer National Health Insurance (NHI) as it was originally called.
Health Minister Emil Lee explained during the Council of Ministers press briefing on Wednesday how the process evolved from NHI to GHI. He said universal health insurance is an international concept defined by the World Health Organisation as providing all members of society with access to health care without creating financial hardship. The desire to ensure that everyone in St. Maarten has health insurance and access to health care is a concept that dates back to Island Council days.
“Way before 10-10-10 it is a concept that was already in progress and that I inherited when becoming minister in 2015 and a concept that the ministry supports,” he said.
Preliminary draft legislation was already in progress in 2015 and at that time the concept was named NHI. However, with extensive research, local and regional stakeholder consultations, over the years the draft legislation has “dramatically” evolved and is now named General Health Insurance.
“The fundamental principle remains the same: that everyone should have access to health care. … In order to do that they need to have health insurance, which provides them the finances to access that health care,” Lee said. “What we have today is very different than what we had when we started.
“While discussions and opinions are being shared, it is important that these conversations are constructive in nature. In essence, when we are having the discussion in Parliament of ‘can we afford it or not?’ the question actually becomes, ‘what legislation are we actually looking at?’
“With these questions, I see that we have to do a better job at explaining that our current financial system for health care is not working. Continuing with what we have now is not an option. The expenses of our health care system are burdening government. If this is not the solution, provide an alternate solution – not just a ‘no’ because our current system cannot continue as it is.”
The draft legislation for GHI has been reviewed by the Social Economic Council SER and is currently under review by the Council of Advice, following which it will be submitted to Parliament.
Lee urges residents to become more engaged with the ministry and to participate in the upcoming opportunities for GHI stakeholder consultations and its implications for St. Maarten.
“The Ministry has not yet received any interest from community stakeholders to discuss the topic with VSA and PAHO [Pan American Health Organisation – Ed.] representatives,” Lee said, adding that the ministry welcomes open dialogue with constructive criticism on the topic, and encourages the community to make use of these opportunities to get informed.
Persons who are interested in hosting or having a community or group stakeholder consultation with the ministry and PAHO representatives can contact the Department of Public Health via e-mail at
[email protected] or via tel. 520-2767.