First Look

Minister of Health hints at User Fee Reintroduction

CaPRI | 2015-12-10 00:00:00

“Political timidity is the reason user fees have not been reintroduced” the Minister of Health, The Honourable Horace Dalley told the audience and fellow panelists at the CaPRI and US Embassy hosted forum entitled Dialogues Between Democracies, Health for Prosperity on December 8 at the Knutsford Court Hotel. The series is aimed at strengthening the relationship between the United States and Jamaica through discussion centered around four main areas: security and law; health and prosperity; democratic governance; and the concept of equal citizenship for all. This forum, themed Health for Prosperity, was the second in the series. The panel included the newly appointed Minister of Health; Mr. Anthony Hron, USAID senior representative for Jamaica; Dr. Jeremy Knight, former head of the NE Regional Medical Authority and; Dr. Shane Alexis, former head of the Medical Association of Jamaica. 

On the issue of user fees, the Minister was to odds with Dr Alexis as the minister maintained that the $2 billion collected in fees was a significant portion of sustainable income for the nation's care providers and hospitals. However Dr Alexis believed the user fee was not an essential element to repairing the health system and defended the no user fee policy out of sensitivity for the persons who have to use public health care. “The majority of persons who have to pay these user fees are the ones who cannot afford private care and suffer from chronic diseases like diabetes and hypertension that affect 70 per cent of the poorest persons in Jamaica”.

Minister Dalley rebutted by suggesting that free healthcare is no more than a scam if the system is overwhelmed to the point where persons are unable to get basic medical tests done. “Every Jamaican that has experienced the health system has a horror story” the Minister went on to say. He said the hardest part of his entire life in public service has been having to sit down with mothers who lost their children in public care. Former PAHO/WHO country representative Dr. Earnest Pate joined the conversation and told the panelists that there is data to show that out of pocket expenses for the patient as a percentage of total health costs have actually risen since the removal of the user fees. He stated that “there needs to be systematic and scientific research done to identify areas where other developing countries like Jamaica have been able to intervene and make improvements… a study was done on 24 countries to show that anywhere from 35-45% of resources that are put into the health system are wasted.”

The discussion also focussed on what the United States is doing to help improve the health of Jamaicans. Mr. Anthony Hron, the Senior HIV/AIDS Technical Advisor for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in Jamaica went through a list of initiatives being made by both the Peace Corps and USAID, also making the point that aid spending in the Jamaica by the US has increased over the last year. He however urged a paradigm shift in thinking about health. “We need to move away from the idea that Doctors are the be all and end when it comes to our health system...We need to look at prevention,” Hron stated which fell in line with the social education and preventative initiatives that they fund.

The forum can be viewed on CaPRI’s YouTube channel and is being rebroadcasted on the Jamaica News Network (JNN) throughout the week.

Posted By :Laura Levy

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